Westwego council districts will change - Councilman questions census

Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) - Saturday, June 2, 2012
Author: Allen Powell II West Bank bureau

With the 2010 federal census a distant memory, Westwego officials are now tasked with bringing the city's council districts in line with federal law, but one official is balking at the changes and wondering if the city has to listen to the federal government. 

Council members discussed the need for the city to hire a demographer to redraw Westwego's five council districts at the board's May 14 meeting. Now that the results of the 2010 census have been finalized, it is clear that some of the council districts vary greatly in number of residents, which violates federal law. 

On Thursday, Mayor John Shaddinger proposed that the city enter into a $13,750 contract with Data Center of Kenner to redraw district lines. That is the same company that handled the changes in 2002. Jefferson Parish School Board member Cedric Floyd is the company's president. 

The census determined that Westwego lost about 20 percent of its population since 2000, going from about 10,763 residents to 8,534 in 2010. By law, Westwego's five council districts should have an equal number of residents, or about 1,706 people. Each district should be within about 5 percent, or 85 residents, of that number. 

Councilman Melvin Guidry expressed concern about the changes to boundary lines and questioned whether census workers got an accurate count of the city's residents. Guidry said that because the Tanglewood apartment complex was closed during the census, about 192 residents who now live in the city were not counted. A portion of the complex is in Guidry's district and would impact his count. 

Guidry also questioned City Attorney Joel Levy about how soon the city must act on the new figures, and exactly which laws mandate that the district lines be redrawn. He wondered if city officials weren't moving too quickly. 

"What's the time frame we have to complete this?" Guidry asked. "Are we prematurely doing this?" 

Levy told Guidry that he'd have to research the law to find the exact deadlines, but he assured him they do exist. Levy said Westwego must comply, and that compliance should come well in advance of citywide elections in April. 

Shaddinger said it behooves the city to get the project completed quickly. Every district except District 1 will see a change in its boundary lines. 

"Whether we do this this month or next month, we have to do this soon," Shaddinger said. "I believe (Floyd) has the tools to get this done in a timely fashion." 

Data Center will take about five weeks to complete the redistricting. The company will hold public hearings, submit proposed districts to the U.S. Justice Department for review and submit the plans to the state and parish. City officials must approve the final plan. 

Westwego switched to council districts from an at-large election process in 1992 after the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decided the city's at-large system discriminated against black residents.