Plan to tweak districts approved - City Council still must review, OK

Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) - Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Author: Jeff Adelson St. Tammany bureau

Mandeville's City Council districts would be tweaked slightly under a plan designed to keep them relatively equal in light of new U.S. Census figures. 

The Planning Commission unanimously voted to approve the new districts at a meeting Tuesday night, though the plans still must be reviewed and approved by the City Council. 

The newly drawn lines are aimed at accounting for the 1,646 residents the city gained since the 2000 Census and dividing the city's total population of 12,135 as evenly as possible between the three geographic council districts. 

"This is the least intrusive manner of doing this," Commissioner Michael Blache said. 

City Planning Director Louisette Kidd said planners aimed to cause as few changes as possible when changing the districts to reflect the new population numbers, while keeping each district close to the average of 4,045 residents. Officials recommend keeping districts within 5 percent of the average population to prevent court challenges. 

District 1, which is represented by Councilman Jerry Coogan, will remain the largest district with 4,184 constituents. District 2, represented by Councilwoman Carla Buchholz, will become the second-largest district with 4,003 constituents. The remaining 3,948 residents of the city are represented by Councilman Jeff Bernard in District 3. 

Two other members of the council, Adelaide Boettner and Trilby Lenfant, are elected at large and represent the entire city. 

The most significant changes in the redistricting are the assignment of nearly all of the Weldon Park subdivision to District 2, while it's now split between the first and second districts; the reassignment of most of Woodstone from District 1 to District 2; and the reassignment of the Tanglewood subdivision from District 2 to District 3. 

Some subdivisions had to be split under the plan because federal guidelines require that electoral districts not split Census blocks, the smallest geographic divisions used by the Census Bureau, Kidd said. Because these blocks don't follow the boundaries of subdivisions or neighborhoods, it's occasionally necessary to break up certain subdivisions to get equal results, she said. 

Michael and Rebecca Black, residents of Woodstone who were at the meeting, raised concerns with commissioners about dividing the subdivision. About 31 homes in the neighborhood will remain in District 1, and the couple asked whether there would be a way to keep the whole subdivision in its old district. 

However, Kidd and commissioners said that doing so would require breaking up larger and older subdivisions. 

"Our hands are tied on that," said Buchholz, who was in the audience along with Coogan. 

The City Council must hold three public meetings on the changes before the new districts can be adopted or can be tweaked the proposal. The final adoption is expected in June. The city must adopt new districts six months before the December qualifying period for the next city elections in February.