LOCAL

School Board approves redistricting plan

PETER SILAS PASQUA news@postsouth.com
The Iberville Parish School Board approved one of eight maps presented by Glenn Koepp, a redistricting attorney hired by the board, at a special meeting on Monday night. 
PROVIDED

PLAQUEMINE – The Iberville Parish School Board ultimately approved a 13-member redistricting map despite staunch opposition during a special meeting on Monday night.

The issue was tabled during a regular meeting Dec. 11 after the board voted to reduce itself from 15 members to 13 in November.

The plan, one of eight drawn by Glenn Koepp, a redistricting attorney hired by the board, was approved by a 10-3 vote. Board members Darlene Ourso, Pam George and Dorothy Sansoni voted in opposition.

Ourso, currently in a White Castle district, presented text messages she received from board member Tom Delahaye suggesting that a majority of the board was going to approve a plan that would place her in a Plaquemine district.

"I had no doubt in my mind when I walked in here today that this board would cut out half of my constituents but I want you to see what I go through," Ourso said. "I am somebody and I don't deserve it."

Ourso presented screen shots of text messages that she received from Delahaye, who did not attend Monday's meeting.

In a text to Ourso, Delahaye wrote: "I hear you recommend (attorney) Jill Craft to others to sue the school board. You might want to consult her about the district we are putting you into!! LOL."

Delahaye also wrote in a later text: "Oh. I have now obtained the 8th vote to eliminate the white district in White Castle. Everyone agrees with me that Plaquemine should pick up that district. Good luck in your new district."

Delahaye then texted: "Do you have your votes?" And in another message Ourso showed to the board, he wrote, "Mine are solid. Bye bye. Lol."

The state's Open Meeting Law, R.S. 42:14, prohibits proxy voting, straw polls or telephone polls.

"When things like this happen, I take it personally," Ourso stated. "This is all politically motivated and this board will face the challenge of a lawsuit."

Board members Brian Willis and Donald Patterson said they were offended by Ourso's allegations.

"Nobody tells me how to vote," Willis said. "I haven't spoken to Tommy Delahaye in four months. The bottom line is you are losing population. We have been discussing this for six months."

"There were a number of plans put before us," Patterson said. "The only calls I have made are to Mr. Koepp."

Superintendent Ed Cancienne added, "Not one of these board members in this room have done anything to attack you. They are not engaged in any kind of plan to do you in."

Ourso offered a substitute motion to adopt a 9-member redistricting plan in order for the board to be in compliance with a 2010 state law. Ourso's motion failed by a 5-8 vote.

Koepp informed the board the law remains on the books but the board is not obligated to follow it because a nine-member plan has not been submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice for pre-clearance.

Ourso said she has asked the state's Attorney General's Office for an opinion on the issue.

"I have a problem," Sansoni said. "There are things that have been changed."

Koepp informed the board that redistricting is driven by population. Rules and regulations include the limit of three split precincts with precincts not split more than twice.

"We represent everybody in Iberville Parish," Board member Michael Hebert Jr. said. "This is not about what street you represent right now."

Koepp said the deadline to approve a plan is Dec. 31.

"This is the one the board wanted," Board president Melvin Lodge said.