West Feliciana residents debate home-rule

A public hearing on a proposed plan to divide West Feliciana into four single-member parish council districts turned into a debate on the need for a home-rule government.

Parish voters approved a home-rule charter in November by a 337-vote margin, but St. Francisville lawyer Charles Griffin II said during the Tuesday meeting that the Police Jury should call an election to allow voters to repeal the charter.

Griffin said the proposed districts are incompatible with the interests of the people and that the charter does not set qualifications for the parish president.

He predicted the government would end up financially top-heavy and the same people who serve on the jury will continue to be re-elected.

The charter calls for a parish president, a council member elected in at-large balloting and four council members elected from single-member districts.

Demographer Cedric Floyd is proposing a plan with two white-majority and two black-majority districts. He has said the at-large seat likely will be held by a white person.

The Police Jury now has seven districts. Three have black majorities, but Juror John Kean, who is white, was elected from one of them.

Black resident Mildred Armstrong said she does not support the district plan because of its racial makeup, which she said will make the council representation “one-sided … with one group superior to the other.”

“Blacks and whites are always fighting,” said Armstrong, who also said she was “scared” of who might be elected parish president.

David Norwood told the audience that a home-rule charter is an “American system” of government and voters would not elect an unqualified parish president.

Norwood also drew applause when he said he supported Floyd’s districting plan.

Z. David DeLoach, a home-rule charter commission member, said he supported the redistricting plan fully and the newly voted form of government is “better than the existing plan.”

As it stands now under the police jury system, said DeLoach, there are “seven fiefdoms trying to run one community.”

DeLoach said the new home-rule charter has term limits, as compared to the police jury system where people are elected for 20 years or more.

Demographer Cedric Floyd said the new plan must be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, but it is statistically “a wash,” or the same regarding representation of the black population.

Floyd said that the Justice Department will review the parish president separately from the council district plan.

Floyd said the redistricting proposal still has room and time for “fine tweaking” before he submits the plan to the jury for its approval in July or August.