Redistricting plan for Chattanooga advances

Redistricting plan for Chattanooga advances

December 14th, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News

Final Chattanooga City Redistricting Proposal

Final Chattanooga City Redistricting Proposal

Photo by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.


The Chattanooga City Council voted 6-0 Tuesday night to adopt a new city redistricting plan. The votes were:

* YES: Councilman Jack Benson, Councilwoman Carol Berz, Councilman Peter Murphy, Councilman Manny Rico, Councilwoman Sally Robinson, Councilwoman Deborah Scott

* ABSENT FROM THE VOTE: Councilman Russell Gilbert, Councilman AndraƩ McGary and Councilwoman Pam Ladd


City Attorney Mike McMahan announced Tuesday night a settlement of $7,500 had been reached with one plaintiff in a case brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the city concerning sexual harassment charge. The charges were brought on former General Services Director Paul Page. McMahan said a second plaintiff decided not to settle. He said the case would now go to the U.S. Department of Justice and they would determine if they wish to file a suit against the city on behalf of the second woman.

An alternate redistricting plan got no traction Tuesday night.

The City Council voted 6-0 on first reading of a redistricting proposal even as a citizens redistricting group begged the body to consider another plan.

"We think the proposal we made is in the best interest of the African-American community," said Joe Rowe, first vice president for the local NAACP.

The City Council has spent more than a month going over redistricting plans, coming to a conclusion of having three strong black majority-minority districts and one swing district comprised of black and Hispanic voters.

Rowe, along with other black leaders, laid out a plan Tuesday that had four black majority-minority districts - Districts 5, 7, 8 and 9.

The council came up with its finalized plan last week.

"Are we changing just for change's sake?" Councilman Manny Rico asked.

Councilman Peter Murphy, chairman of the Legal and Legislative Committee and the council member who led the redistricting process, told Rowe the council tried taking the same approach as his group, but stopped midstream because of Rowe's suggestions.

"What I'm hearing from you is, 'My way or the highway,'" Murphy said.

The council is required by federal law to redistrict every 10 years after the U.S. census as people move and boundaries change. The city has been bound in the past by a court decision in the 1980s that changed the city's form of government to its current mayor-City Council format.

The court ordered at that time that there needed to be three majority-minority districts and a swing district.

Maxine Cousins, a plaintiff in that suit, appeared before the council Tuesday and said the proposed redistricting plan was the better, not the council's.

"It gives minorities a chance to vote for a candidate of their choice," she said.

But City Attorney Mike McMahan said he feared it gave preferential treatment to African-Americans. He said the Voting Rights Act of 1965 specifically says race can not come into play.

Many council members also said they believed the proposed plan by the group looked gerrymandered.

Councilwoman Carol Berz said she felt like it plucked blacks out of many communities solely based on race and not for their values they share with their neighbors.

"The assumption there is that only white people think alike and only black people think alike," she said. "And that's insulting."

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