published Monday, August 8th, 2011

Chattanooga’s district lines may head east


by Cliff Hightower

WHAT’S NEXT


State officials have confirmed the city must have its new district lines settled by Jan. 1. Councilman Peter Murphy said the city would begin its redistricting efforts as soon as population and demographic data become available.

The slogan for city redistricting may be, “Go east, young man.”

Because population has shifted away from the city’s core toward its edge, mostly in East Brainerd, City Council districts are going to change shape.

“Everything has to go east,” said Councilman Russell Gilbert.

Councilman Peter Murphy, chairman of the council’s Legal, Legislative and Public Safety Committee, said he has seen the numbers for the population shifts within the city.

“It becomes fairly obvious what direction it needs to move in,” he said, though he wouldn’t address specifics.

The city soon will begin its redistricting process as the county puts the final touches on its own redistricting. Federal law requires political boundaries to be redrawn every 10 years after the U.S. census to keep up with population shifts.

Dividing the city’s population (167,674) by the number of council districts (nine) means the ideal district size is 18,630. City officials said each district’s population must be within 10 percent of the ideal size.

Chattanooga has its own redistricting parameters to meet because of a federal court case that established a mayor-city council form of government in 1990. City officials say they are mandated by federal law not to retrogress.

The current majority-minority districts are 5, 8 and 9. Murphy said he plans to try to ensure that each has at least a 65 percent majority of black voters.

District 5, represented by Gilbert, includes Highway 58, parts of Lee Highway and areas just west and north of Brainerd.

District 9, represented by Murphy, spreads out along Amnicola Highway, East Chattanooga and Missionary Ridge. District 8, represented by Councilman Andraé McGary, takes in most of the downtown area and neighborhoods adjacent to downtown.

The swing district, District 7, lies mostly in southern Chattanooga and is represented by Councilman Manny Rico.

Records show McGary’s district has grown, while Rico’s and Gilbert’s districts have declined in population. Councilman Jack Benson’s district — District 4 in East Brainerd — also has had substantial growth.

Gilbert surmised that his and Murphy’s districts probably will have to move more to the east. Gilbert could pick up black voters from District 6, represented by Councilwoman Carol Berz, and in turn District 6 will move more into East Brainerd, he said.

Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said Berz’s district also may shift.

  • photo
    Carol Berz

“We’re definitely looking at some changes,” she said.

Berz said she hasn’t really studied the possible changes yet.

The city’s redistricting must be complete by Jan. 1, the same as the county. There was some confusion about the deadline last week. City leaders said they thought they had until the city’s next election in March 2013 to have redistricting completed.

Mark Goins, the state’s election administrator, conducted some research and found that is not the case.

“They are under a deadline to have it in by the end of the year,” he said.

Charlotte Mullis-Morgan, Hamilton County administrator of elections, said that is the best-case scenario for the election office. She said the information needs to be submitted as soon as possible because the state will begin its redistricting in the spring.

The election office will get the state, county and city information to begin drawing precinct boundaries in time for the August 2012 county general and state primary election, she said.

“It’s going to make it a whole lot easier,” Mullis-Morgan said.

Murphy said Friday he saw no problems with the city having its redistricting done within four months. He said the city is waiting for some population and demographic data, but then the process will get rolling.

“We’re sitting on August, and it’s not due until January,” he said. “We have loads of time.”

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