Redistricting plans discussed at Parish Council meeting

Published 4:26 pm Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

LAPLACE — Redistricting in St. John the Baptist Parish has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ida but potential plans should begin to emerge soon, according to South Central Planning and Development Commission officials.

Commission Executive Director Kevin Belanger told the parish council Aug. 9 that the U.S. Constitution requires redistricting every 10 years, saying the 14th Amendment provides for equal representation and the Voter Rights Act of 1965 prohibits plans that inadvertently discriminate on the basis of race, which could dilute the minority vote.

Belanger said the commission’s goals in redistricting include complying with state laws; keeping the district compact, as well keeping communities together; assuring that all parts of the district must be touching; preservation of community interests; and preservation of core districts, meaning that an attempt is made not to disrupt the current plan so as not to impose incumbents running against each other.

Commission planner Josh Manning presented a series of slides detailing what he called the current baseline plan, based on the 2020 census.

“We need to make sure that all of the columns (on the slide) are plus or minus 5% of the ideal population,” he said.

Manning noted the latest census showed the parish with a population of 42,477, down by about 2,000, which he said was on par in southeast Louisiana parishes. He said that number is divided by seven (number of council districts), leaving each district with an average population of 6,068 residents.

“We want to try to get as close to that number as possible while still trying to comply with the other goals,” he said.

He said the parish must retain four majority minority districts, but since the population of the parish is more than 50% Black that should not present a problem.

Another chart showed where the growth spurts have occurred, mainly in the Laplace area, so those districts might actually become geographically smaller while other areas, such as Reserve, Garyville and the West Bank have shown population decreases.

“Those might have to grow a little and shift,” he said.

The commission will present three alternative plans for the regular council districts and the two at-large districts.

“It will be up to the council to call a special meeting or regular meeting, which will offer an opportunity to tweak those districts,” Manning said. “Just because you see those alignments does not mean that is the final plan.”

He said a parish council might select a plan members overall favor and attempt to make a few tweaks. His role is to say if the proposed tweaks will pass legal muster.

“Once you guys are comfortable with one of the plans, you will call a public hearing on it and adopt the plan,” Manning said.

The adopted plan will be sent to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office and the Attorney General. He said hopefully a plan will be in place by July 2023.

Commission Chief Building Official Michael Wich delivered an encouraging update on rebuilding efforts in the wake of Ida. He said in the 10 months preceding the storm, the commission reviewed 345 permits, but in the 10 months since, 654 permits have been reviewed.

“Obviously, the volume has picked up and we expect that to continue as more and more people settle with their insurance companies and figure out ways to pay for their repairs,” he said.

The number of inspections has also seen a dramatic increase, from just less than 2,400 in the 10 months before Ida to 3,400 post-Ida.

New codes will be enacted in January and later in 2023 and the commissions will soon offer free classes to residents and builders to educate them through the changes.