For redistricting council goes back to drawing board

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 11, 2011



LAPLACE – After a lengthy and heated discussion, the St. John the Baptist Parish Council tabled a decision to hire South Central Planning and Development to assist in the redrawing of parish boundaries.

An evaluation committee consisting of parish administrators and three council members had recommended South Central Planning, but representatives from a competing firm, Data Center, challenged the recommendation.

Data Center President Cedric Floyd said his firm is more experienced and offers a lower rate than South Central Planning but was looked over in the evaluation process. He added his firm successfully challenged the school board’s and council’s redistricting plans after the 2000 census.

The parish is required to redraw boundaries after each census to ensure each council and school board district have roughly the same number of residents. Louisiana, like many other states in the south, is also required to submit proposed districts to the federal government to ensure that minority representation on each of the respective local governing bodies is not diluted.

Floyd argued his firm has a combined 68 years of experience in dealing with redistricting, while South Central Planning combines for 40 years experience. He also said his proposed fee was $25,000, while South Central Planning proposed a $30,000 fee.

A third firm, Redistricting LLC, which drafted the initial school board plan in 2000, was also evaluated in the process. Their fee was $25,000 plus expenses.

Floyd proceeded to criticize both firms, stressing that parish taxpayers were responsible for challenges and legal expenses after the 2000 census redistricting.

After hearing from Floyd at the meeting, Councilman Ronnie Smith said he couldn’t in good conscience vote in favor of South Central Planning.

“We have a firm offering a cheaper rate with more experience,” Smith said. “I don’t see the problem.”

Councilman Cheryl Millet, one of the members of the evaluation committee, came to the defense of the committee’s selection, saying the committee worked extensively to narrow down the best firm for the job.

“Every item presented by each firm was taken into consideration,” Millet said. “Why have a meeting if it is going to be questioned?”

With elections in October, the parish has an ever-shrinking window to hire a firm for redistricting. Federal law allows 60 days for residents to challenge redistricting proposed by the parish. The parish, which recommended the hiring of South Central Planning, hoped to have a firm secured at the meeting.

In other action, the council requested the parish seek proposals for residential garbage collection services. The parish’s current contract with SWDI/IESI expires July 1.

Just before the end of last year, SWDI had requested a renewal of their contract for twice-per-week pickup for another five years at the current rate of $13.38 per month per household, but the parish chose to seek new proposals after seeing St. Charles Parish secure a $9.74 per household per month rate from SDT Waste and Debris earlier this year.

The council also approved authorization for the parish to enter into an agreement with the state to install streetlights along the Interstate 10 interchange at Belle Terre Boulevard. The parish will be responsible for 10 percent of the $743,000 price tag to install the lights and must also conduct all maintenance as needed. St. John Chief Administrative Officer Marie Brown-Mercadel said the parish has already paid the $74,300 needed to put the project in motion. The lights should be up by May of this year.

Finally, the council authorized the administration to seek a more than $99,000 grant from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture for construction of a farmers market on Louisiana Highway 18 near the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Wallace.