Rep. Tommie Brown wants City of Chattanooga to delay redistricting

Rep. Tommie Brown wants City of Chattanooga to delay redistricting

December 6th, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News

Tennessee state representative Tommie Brown

Photo by Patrick Smith/Times Free Press.

Final Chattanooga City Redistricting Proposal

Photo by Laura McNutt/Times Free Press.

State Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, said Monday she has asked for the City Council to delay a vote on redistricting expected for next week.

She said she and other plaintiffs from a case in the 1980s that changed city government want time to look over the redistricting plans.

"I have asked them to back off if they would give us time," Brown said.

But City Councilman Peter Murphy, chairman of the City Council's Legal and Legislative Committee, said he saw no reason for a delay and would continue forward with a first reading of the proposed redistricting ordinance next Tuesday.

"The problem is the law requires us to be done by Dec. 31," Murphy said, who is in charge of the city's redistricting process.

The city is in the middle of changing the boundaries of its nine City Council districts and has spent the last month looking at different scenarios. The latest scenario calls for three strong districts with a majority of minority voters and a swing district made up of blacks and Hispanics as a minority block.

Political districts are redrawn every 10 years after the national census to ensure proportional representation for government.

Brown was the lead plaintiff in the Brown v. Board of Commissioners, the lawsuit that overturned Chattanooga's historical city commission government and created the current mayor-City Council form of government.

The issue now is whether the city has followed the letter of the law as dictated by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. City officials said they believe the redistricting plan they have proposed could stand up to legal challenges.

Brown said she has sought legal counsel and said an evaluation of whether to file a new lawsuit would come later.

She said she has found a demographer to evaluate the city's minority population and whether there could be a fourth strong majority-minority district. She and others in her group have asked for all redistricting paperwork from the city.

"I'm hoping there can be a fourth seat and the swing district can be converted," she said.

She declined to give the name of the demographer with whom she is working.

Murphy said state law dictates the city must have its redistricting into the Hamilton County Election Commission by Jan. 1, 2012, so the commission can consider any precinct changes. To make that deadline, the vote must be conducted next week because it requires two readings and the council does not meet the last week of December.

An amendment could be presented after the vote to adjust any redistricting plans, but any changes would have to come under the council's proposed precincts.

Joe Rowe, vice president for the local NAACP, said local groups want to work with the council first.

"The last thing we want is a costly, time-consuming, embarrassing lawsuit," he said.

But he said he felt the city did not plan redistricting properly, put in the necessary resources or use qualified people to guide the process.

"They chose to kind of wing it," he said.

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him at twitter.com/cliffhightower or facebook.com/ hightowerTFP.