OUR OPINION: Efficient process leads to ward line approval

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Tupelo City Council on Tuesday night approved ward lines for the council’s seven seats, a remarkably smooth process that became high profile only for lack of controversy, creating lines that will likely stand for the rest of the decade.
Council wards, like congressional and state legislative districts, must be redrawn after every decennial U.S. census and meet standards in case law and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which applies broad regulation to states with a history of racial segregation and widespread discrimination in voting.
Tupelo’s task was complicated because the city needed to wait and see if an annexation would be finally approved on appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court. When that happened the reapportionment process moved forward, steered by a special citywide ward committee, wasting no time in approving new lines calculated by demographers at the regional Three Rivers Planning and Development District, headquartered in Pontotoc.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr., who will not seek a second term, said Tuesday afternoon the committee did excellent work, suggesting a season of fewer civic controversies infused the committee’s good will and internal cooperation.
Earlier this week, a 10-member citizens committee gave its unanimous approval to the proposed wards without recommending any changes. On Tuesday, the City Council held a public hearing, then approved the new lines.
The plan had three main objectives:
• Divide the city’s population based on the 2010 Census more equally. Under the old lines, there was a 30 percent – 1,500 people – difference between Wards 4 and 6. Under the proposed lines, the deviation is 5.5 percent – fewer than 300 people – between Wards 6 and 7.
• Maintain minority majorities in Wards 4 and 7. The percentage of the non-white voting-age population had grown slightly in both. Senior city attorney Guy Mitchell said concerns about being able to do that were addressed early and efficiently in the process.
• Avoid moving current council members out of their wards, which was accomplished.
Tupelo’s efficiency in the process and absence of partisan commotion suggests a clear understanding of elections law. Municipal elections are scheduled in May 2013.