A mandated redistricting of the six wards in the city of Columbus is officially underway. At Tuesday’s meeting of the mayor and city council, Chief Operating Officer David Armstrong presented bids submitted by civil planning agencies before the board. The chosen firm will assist with redistricting by creating maps and advising the city throughout the process.
Bridge and Watson Inc., Straughter and Associates PLLC, both of Oxford, and Golden Triangle Planning and Development District (GTPDD) of Starkville each submitted bids for consideration.
“The lowest bidder was Bridge and Watson, with a proposal of a range between $4,000 to $8,000,” Armstrong said. “Golden Triangle Planning and Development District had bid the job at $9,500 but they reduced their price to $7,500. Straughter and Associates came in at over $10,000.”
Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem made a motion to award the contract to GTPDD. A vote on the motion was split as Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box, Ward 4 Councilman Gene Taylor and Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin opposed the recommendation.
Taylor then motioned the city accept the proposal from Bridge and Watson, who are currently assisting the city with its annexation project. The motion passed 4-2 with Karriem and Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens voting against it.
Before the subject of redistricting was closed for the evening, Mickens suggested the council consider bringing in members of the community to have a voice in the process.
“I think we should appoint someone from each ward to a committee to assist with the redistricting,” he said. “I’m going to make a motion that we do this.”
Mickens’ motion was met with resistance from Box.
“I don’t agree with this,” Box said. “The redistricting of this city is the most important thing we are going to do as councilmen.”
The motion was passed 4-2. Box and Gavin voted no on the measure.
On Wednesday, Box explained his opposition to Micken’s request.
“I don’t think we should appoint people from our wards to work with the council on this — I think this is the councilmen’s job — it’s what we were elected to do,” Box said. “I certainly support ward meetings and getting input from the public. But I don’t think putting a bunch of people on a committee is a good idea. We hired professionals to do this. This is a very important issue. In (Mickens’) defense, this is something past councils have done. Although I oppose this, I will be appointing someone from my ward. I’m going to make sure my ward is represented on the committee.”
Mickens later said he felt Box misunderstood his intentions.
“One of the reasons I did this is because we are so busy,” Mickens said Wednesday evening. “I just want to have someone on my side who is knowledgeable about redistricting — I’ve never been through a redistricting process. I want someone to help make some decisions. But the board will have the final say on everything. That’s what I was trying to tell Mr. Box — this committee will not be allowed to vote. The council will make the final decisions.”
The need to redistrict
Redistricting is required by law under the Voters Rights Act of 1965. It prohibits states from imposing any voting qualification or deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” According to Armstrong, the latest census results showed redistricting is necessary in the city of Columbus.
“This is done every 10 years,” he said. “If you have a variance of 10 percent or more in any ward, you have to redistrict. We have a variance of 20 percent. What that means is that we have 23,640 people in Columbus. The wards should be divided at 3,940 people in each ward, but that’s never the case.”
Armstrong said he received authorization to review the bids from the council at a special meeting Feb. 16. Although the deadline for redistricting is not until 2013, Armstrong said he was confident the matter will be resolved by late summer.
“We have to submit our plan for redistricting to the Department of Justice 90 days before the deadline to qualify for the municipal election, which is March 8, 2013. I feel we will have it submitted by August. We want to give people plenty of time to know what ward in which they will vote.”
Columbus last went through the redistricting process in 2001.