By Randy Bell
After a vote on Clinton’s new ward lines was put off for two months and then for another two weeks, the issue is back on the Board of Aldermen’s agenda at its September 19 meeting. The City is required to approve a new map of the six wards, because the 2020 census showed a population shift, which threw the current wards out of balance.
In July, the Board delayed a decision for sixty days after local NAACP representatives asked for more time to submit their own redistricting plan. Then, when it met September 5, the Board voted 4-3 to wait until the next meeting to consider the new ward lines, after Alderwoman at Large Ricki Garrett said she was “uncomfortable” voting on a plan without a consensus among the Board members. That led to a sharp exchange of words with Mayor Phil Fisher, who said Garrett had made no effort to discuss the map alternatives at the Board’s work sessions, which Garrett called “an absolute lie.”
After the meeting, Garrett explained her position.
“I really think something as important as a redistricting map should have the full support of the Board,” reiterated Garrett. “And, right now, there is not full support of the Board on any one of the maps. My understanding is there’s two or three people that support one, two or three that support another, [and] somebody else maybe supports a third one.”
Garrett said she had requested that one of the Board’s work sessions be used to talk about the pros and cons of each of the maps which are still under consideration. As of September 5, that hadn’t been done, but the Board planned a redistricting discussion for its September 18 work session, inviting the NAACP to participate.
Garrett emphasized that there’s no need to rush to approve new ward lines.
“This doesn’t have to be done until 2025,” she said.
Fisher was clearly unhappy with the Board’s inaction.
“It’s a sad state of affairs when a Board elected to lead cannot even vote,” Fisher commented. “We’ve been over this and over this. As far as I’m concerned, it’s been hashed to death.”
The mayor said Garrett’s desire for a Board consensus is unrealistic.
“She doesn’t understand politics, I guess,” Fisher continued. “I mean, you’re not always going to have a 7-0 vote. There are going to be times when you’re going to have a 4-3 vote. That’s just the nature of the beast.”
And he said Garrett didn’t mention redistricting during the August 31 work session.
“She never said ‘I think we ought to take it off the agenda’. She didn’t bring up anything having to do with these ward maps.”
Ward 4 Alderman Chip Wilbanks was in favor of the sixty-day delay the Board approved in July, but said he was disappointed by what happened September 5.
“I thought we were ready to vote,” said Wilbanks. “Sometimes, I like to just make a decision, and let’s go and move on. It’s frustrating that we can’t quite ever make a decision on things.”
Ward 6 Alderman James Lott made the motion to delay the vote for two weeks, saying the Board had just received details of the NAACP’s proposed map.
“I know there’s a lot of emotion and frustration,” Lott said. “We’ve been dealing with [redistricting] since December of 2021.”
But Lott says he believes putting off the vote for a second time is warranted.
“I think it’s fair that we at least give [the NAACP] one more time to come in and discuss [their plan].”
Monica McInnis, a local NAACP board member, spoke at the September 5 meeting, insisting that all they had asked for in the redistricting process was “fairness and transparency.”
She said afterwards, “Nobody’s going to get what they want. They’re really going to have to settle on a plan that looks best. [Our plan] is one of the best plans that reflects the demographics here in our city.”
Lott is Clinton’s only African American alderman, but McInnis says the NAACP’s ultimate goal is to create a second ward with a voting age majority of minority residents.