By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – While many surrounding counties are already well underway in redistricting county beat lines, Yalobusha officials delved into the matter at the “first Monday” meeting in Water Valley.
The topic comes after the 2010 Census figures were released in February and indicated the population of Yalobusha’s five supervisor districts goes from a high of 3064 people in District 3 to a low of 2017 people in District 2. District 1 has 2864 people, District 4 has 2551, and District 5 has 2182.
Department of Justice voting rules require that political boundaries maintain equal populations, a rule referred to as a one-man, one-vote policy, Board Attorney John Crow told supervisors Monday.
“Yalobusha County’s high district and the low district is a total of 41.5 (percent) deviation. You can’t exceed 10 percent deviation from high district to low district, so we are a little over four times where we need to be,” Crow explained.
His comments came after District Three Supervisor M.H. “Butch” Surrette first questioned why the issue was on the agenda and if board members had previously discussed redistricting.
The matter was discussed briefly during a February 7 meeting, just after the 2010 Census figures were released, but no action was taken.
Surrette also questioned paperwork several supervisors were holding that had Census figures.
“I haven’t seen this and George, I don’t think, has seen this. Has there been some discussion about it?” Surrette asked.
“I checked into it, Butch, because I didn’t want to get caught in a mess out here. And I don’t even have an opponent,” Tillman answered.
“I am not running,” Surrette countered.
“I know you are not,” Tillman added before questioning Crow about the county’s two minority districts.
“You can’t dilute the minority voting strength. You have to maintain the existing minority percentage in your two existing minority districts in the county,” Crow answered.
“You know Butch, you said we haven’t talked about it, we have.” District One Supervisor Tommy Vaughn first noted. “About two or three months ago we brought this subject up. None of us at that time wanted to do it. Understandably we didn’t want to spend money, “ Vaughn noted.
“When did we bring it up, Tommy?” Surrette asked.
“You may not have been at that meeting. But everybody at the meeting said we didn’t we want to do it. In that period of time since then, we have done a lot of looking and Crow has done a lot of work. This is the first discussion we have had on it right now. And if we need to do it to stay in compliance and to keep out of lawsuits, it may be something we have to deal with whether we want to or not,” Vaughn explained.
Surrette attended the Feb. 7 meeting, and told supervisors the county could choose not to redistrict regardless of the census figures.
“Amy (McMinn), do you have any idea of how much money this is going to cost us?” Vaughn then asked.
“In 2000 the county contracted with the Stennis Institute over at Mississippi State and it was $5,800 plus some legal fees from John… (Crow) for typing up that lengthy order,” Chancery Clerk Amy McMinn answered.
“The submission,” Crow explained, referring to his work in the 2000 redistricting process that included the legal documents submitted to the U.S. Justice Department for approval.
“What I am going to tell you is it does cost a pretty good little bit to do it when you add the attorney’s fees in it.
Surrette also pointed out that he had been involved in redistricting previously.
“I don’t like it. I am not for it. People don’t like it. I think you are going to have trouble keeping your same percentage in the two (minority) districts that you need to keep your percentage in,” Surrette said.
“You know, as well as I know, there are a lot of things that we take action on that we don’t like. We feel that it is the just and lawful thing to do, Butch,” Board President Amos Sims said.
“If you feel like that, that is up to you. What I am saying is I don’t feel like that is the thing to do,” Surrette countered.
“That is your personal opinion,” Sims responded.
“That’s exactly right,” Surrette agreed.
“I don’t want to do it, that’s for sure,” Tillman added.
“I don’t think you do because there is a chance you might have another election,” Surrette said.
“If you go on and do it (redistricting) with the lines just like there are, they are not going to have time to get the lines approved by the justice department,” Tillman stated.
“Not for this election,” Crow answered.
“The other question is, we do it and have the elections… (under old lines), does that mean we are going to have another election the next year?” Tillman asked.
“You would if somebody brings suit against you,” Surrette answered.
“The only advantage you have, by changing it now is you are in the process of doing it and it shows good faith,” Crow added.
“When you do that redistricting… it can shift some of the people here and yonder,” Tillman explained, as the district lines are changed.
“What you could do, if you so mind to do it, you can district somebody out that is running,” Surrette said, referring to changing district lines to move a candidate who has qualified to run in one beat to another beat.
“You wouldn’t want to do it but you could do it. And that would be called a shenigan,” Surrette continued. “That can happen and it does happen.”
“That will never happen with us,” Vaughn answered.
“Well it might not. But I am going to keep a close eye on it to make sure it don’t,” Surrette added.
“I guess it boils down to, as much as I hate it, whether you want to stay in compliance or not,” Vaughn said.
“A lawsuit is a lawsuit as far as I am concerned. Whether it is now or later,” Surrette added.
“John has always provided this board legal counsel… If John recommends that he feels that this is what we need do,” Sims countered.
“We haven’t always done it. I believe if you look back after the 1990 Census, we didn’t do it,” Surrette said. “It is a board decision, it is not a one man decision, not my decision.”
“We had to do it the last time. George (Suggs), how do you feel about it?” Tillman asked.
“I think we need to leave it alone,” Suggs answered, his only comment during the discussion.
“I tell you what, I am going to throw something up in the air and y’all can vote anyway you want to,” Vaughn said. “I am going to make a motion that we do it,” Vaughn said.
“Why don’t we do this, let’s contact the Stennis Institute and see what they will do it for and let them come talk to us,” Crow advised.
Supervisors agreed to table the matter and have John C. Stennis Institute of Government address the board next month.
Surrette made a final comment on the matter, telling his peers that the cost is the least problem of the whole situation.
“The disruption of these people and changing these people is the most costly thing. They are not going to like it. They don’t ever like. I think we need to consider that part, not withstanding the cost,”
Surrette continued, telling board members that he knows people who have been moved four times.
“They don’t have a clue whose beat they are in because they have been in everybody’s beat in the county,” Surrette added.