OUR OPINION: Public hearing on wards scheduled for Dec. 18

By NEMS Daily Journal

Tupelo’s Citizen Redistricting Committee meets today at 5 p.m. in City Hall to examine – for what’s expected to be its final time – the proposed ward realignment plan, which would be in effect for the 2013 municipal elections.
After committee approval the plan goes to the Tupelo City Council, which will hold a public hearing Dec. 18 as part of the regular council meeting, and then probably approve it for movement through requisite pre-clearance by the U.S. Department of Justice, a mandate of the Voting Rights Act.
New lines, drawn with the expert help of the Three Rivers Planning and Development District, will reflect the 3,140 people added to Tupelo’s population when annexation took effect in September. All of the qualified electors in the newly annexed areas will be eligible to vote for council positions by ward and in the race for mayor, the only elected city positions.
Tonight’s meeting is public, as will be the formal public hearing on the 18th at 6 p.m.
City Attorney Guy Mitchell said the legal requirements for redistricting are strict because the law requires careful balancing of racial proportions that do not diminish black voting strength. Mitchell said the wards as drawn by Three Rivers are within the federal guidelines.
Tupelo’s seven-member council includes two African-American members, Ward 4’s Nettie Davis and Ward 7’s Willie Jennings. The seven-ward configuration replaced a former nine-member council, which included two at-large positions, determined to be out of compliance with voting laws.
Approval by the council next week would allow qualifying for the council posts and mayor to move forward, as scheduled in January. So far, a new mayor and a new Ward 2 council member are assured:
• Mayor Jack Reed Jr. has announced he will not seek a second term;
• Ward 2 Councilman Fred Pitts, who is council president, has announced he will run for mayor.
Additional announcements of intent are expected in coming weeks from incumbents and challengers. As constituted now, the council has five Republicans and two Democrats, but traditional partisan politics plays a relatively minor role in city governance.
Party primaries, as necessary, will be contested in May, with the general election in June. The new officials take office in early July.