Voters may face autumn election twist

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 24, 2002


HAHNVILLE – Voters in St. Charles Parish could face a new twist in this year’s election of school board members, as the St. Charles Parish School Board awaits the decision on its redistricting plan.

In November, the board narrowly approved a reapportionment plan, which will add an eighth school board district, carved out of those on the East Bank. It was submitted to the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for review in April and word is expected soon on whether the plan will be permitted by the federal authority.

Kevin Belanger of South Central Planning and Development Commission, the consultant hired by both the board and the parish council to develop plans based on minority populations, said the last date the Justice Department can report any comments or questions is by the end of the working day, June 24. That is equal to a 60-day period, which began with the federal representatives’ receipt of the plan from the board.

“I think we’ll get approval,” Belanger said. “It will afford great opportunities for minorities to vote and get elected.”

The next elections for the school board are in the fall.

Voting in favor of the eight-district plan were John L. Smith, Alfred Green, Ronald St. Pierre and Wayne Roussel. Voting against were Clarence “Sonny” Savoie, Mary Bergeron and Stephen Crovetto.

At the time, Savoie campaigned hard to keep a seven-district plan, which he said would mirror the parish council’s plan. For some time, the council and school board have agreed on the same districts, unlike any other parish in Louisiana.

Savoie said that for the two board to have different districts would be confusing to voters and cut into voter turnout.

Savoie also argued that despite the parish council having already voted down a seven-district plan known as Alternate A, it was being re-introduced at Monday’s parish council meeting by chairman Barry Minnich, who also chaired the joint council-school board redistricting committee.

Practically every plan used in the past had four districts on the West Bank, where most of the population lived, and three on the East Bank. However, in the past 25 years or more, East Bank population has drawn level with the West Bank. The latest census report had only a 90-resident difference out of total population of 48,072.

In 1991’s redistricting, a plan met approval which had two West Bank districts crossing the river with a thumbnail portion on the East Bank.

West Bank population growth is expected to boom in the next several years, with a 2,000-lot development at Ashton Plantation and more development coming near Bayou Gauche, behind Lakewood West and between Davis Heights and the Davis diversion canal in Luling.

One advantage of the eight-district plan offered up by Belanger is the population differences between the largest and smallest districts is almost five percent.

Alternate A’s population deviation is 17.1 percent, Belanger said, which is still permissible by the Justice Department.

Committee members include parish council members Barry Minnich, Dee Abadie, Desmond Hilaire and Clayton “Snookie” Faucheux; School Board members Ronald St. Pierre, Alfred Green and Clarence “Sonny” Savoie; and District Five Constable Stephen Black, current president of the St. Charles Justices of the Peace and Constables Association.

South Central Planning Commission, a municipal planning organization with oversight by a regional trans-government board, is serving in the same capacity this time around as well. Ideally, each district will have a population count of 6,877 population to be balanced among the districts.

In the last reapportionment, a movement toward a parish charter change and redividing the parish into eight districts failed in a general election.

Qualifying for candidates in the next school board elections will be held Aug. 21-23, with elections to be held Oct. 5 and Nov. 5. Other local elections this fall will include district judges, district attorney, justices of the peace, constables. Federal elections for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are set to be held Nov. 5 and Dec. 7.

The next parish council election is in fall 2003.