Hymel vetoes St. James remap

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 7, 2011



CONVENT — A day after the St. James Parish Council approved a parish reapportionment plan, Parish President Dale Hymel moved to veto the proposal, fearing the plan would not gain approval from the U.S. Justice Department.

The council has set a special meeting for Monday at 7:30 a.m. in the council chambers in Convent to either discuss a possible override of the veto or continue to look at alternate plans. The early time was set to accommodate scheduling publication of a public notice for a May 18 hearing on any alternate plan approved by the council.

Hymel said Thursday he was not sure the Department of Justice would approve the new plan because all three of the council’s minority members voted against it during Wednesday’s regular council meeting. He said his office, which has done most of the redistricting mapping work, has prepared an alternate plan he thinks could win approval from the council.

The plan approved Wednesday passed with a 4-3 vote but drew criticism from a handful of residents and one council member who said the plan would not accurately represent the African-American population on the council.

Councilman Ken Brass said Wednesday he believes the plan would only guarantee two black council members, thus diluting the African-American vote. The current council includes three black members, and 2010 census figures show the parish has a black majority of about 52 percent.

“This plan does not maintain what we have now,” Brass said. “It doesn’t allow for fair representation of the population of St. James Parish.”

Councilman Elwyn Bocz argued the reapportionment plan does not guarantee anything. He said when a redistricting is mandated by the Department of Justice, one looks at numbers and not race, gender or other factors.

Redrawing the boundaries of St. James’ seven council districts is required by federal law following completion of the U.S. Census every 10 years. The Justice Department takes 90 days to process any plan approved by the parish, and a plan must be in place by the fall elections. Hymel said Wednesday the Census showed a 4.2 percent increase in population since 2000. He said the population in the parish stands at 22,102.

Brass proposed a substitute motion to delay the vote another week so the parish could devise another plan, but that motion was voted down 4-3 with councilmen Jason Amato, Wilson Malbrough, James Brazan and Bocz all voting against it. Councilmen Ralph Patin, Charles Ketchens and Brass voted in favor.

In the vote to approve the redistricting plan, Bocz, Amato, Malbrough and Brazan voted in favor, while Ketchens, Patin and Brass voted against it.