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Parish Council continues work on 13-member plan

Deidre Cruse

After a second public hearing on reapportionment last week, Parish Council Chairman Matthew H. Jewell of Maringouin asked three Plaquemine-area councilmen to work out the boundaries of their districts.

The council is working out a plan to divide the parish population into 13 roughly equal districts to accommodate shifts in population since the 2000 U. S. Census. After the 2010 Census, each Parish Council district should have an ideal population of 2,319 residents, plus or minus five percent.

Under “Trial Plan 5” developed by reapportionment consultant Glenn Koepp, the Eastside continue to have two council districts. The two North Iberville districts have been enlarged because of growth in District 9 in North Plaquemine (now represented by Terry J. Bradford). District 10 has been redraws so that Councilman Louis “Pete” Kelley Jr., if re-elected, would represent the Bayou Sorrel area.

The boundary lines of District 6, now represented by Salaris Butler of Seymourville, District 7, now represented by Howard Oubre Jr. of Plaquemine, and District 8, now represented by Eugene P. Stevens Jr. are still at issue, Jewell said.

He asked the three councilmen to get together with Koepp to work out the new lines, so the council could call a third public hearing and adopt a reapportionment plan.

Parish Council elections are scheduled for this fall, but the U. S. Justice Department has to approve the redistricting plan before qualifying, which is scheduled for September 6-8. Once the council submits a plan, the Justice Department has 60 days to accept or reject it, unless there are any questions about or problems with the proposal.

The plan the council is working on maintains seven majority white and six majority black districts, and does not pit any of the 13 incumbents against each other.

At last week's meeting, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Member Linda Johnson of Plaquemine asked the councilmen if they had considered reducing the size of the council to nine members, so that they could have the same districts as the Iberville Parish School Board.

Under legislation passed last year, the School Board must cut its size from 15 to nine members before the 2014 elections.

“It would be good if I voted in the same School Board district as Parish Council district,” Johnson said.

She said 33 other parishes already have equal numbers of members on their School Boards and parish governing bodies.

Councilman Butler said the process allowed a reduction to nine Parish Council members, but the idea had been rejected.

“I was one who voted to reduce the council,” Councilman Oubre said.

“I'm not looking for a bigger district,” Jewell said. “My people have a lot of needs. I was against it. I don't want my people in my district to suffer because I'm stretched too thin.”

The parish's Home Rule Charter requires three public hearings on council reapportionment. Johnson is the first citizen to speak on the issue.