By Randy Bell
City leaders may be going back to the drawing board to try to fashion a new plan for redistricting Clinton’s six wards.
A majority of the Board of Aldermen voted on September 19 in favor of a ward map that the local NAACP submitted as an additional alternative to six other plans that the Board had been considering. Prior to the introduction of Plan 7, the ward map proposed by the NAACP, aldermen had whittled down the initial six plans to two maps, Plan 3 and Plan 5. In a 4-3 vote, Plan 7 was approved.
But, three days after the vote, Mayor Phil Fisher vetoed the Board’s action.
“I do not believe the ward map that was adopted is in the best interest of the city,” Fisher wrote in his veto message. The mayor pointed out that residents of the Cascades neighborhood would be moved out of Ward 4 after almost forty years and would become part of Ward 3. He also questioned the motives of some of the Board members who voted in favor of Plan 7, saying they did so for “personal benefit and electoral gain.”
In their prior meeting, when the Board had voted to delay their decision on a map for a second time, Fisher had expressed displeasure with the Board’s inaction, saying, “It’s a sad state of affairs when a Board elected to lead cannot even vote. We’ve been over this and over this. As far as I’m concerned, it’s been hashed to death.”
Ward 2’s Jim Martin, Ward 5’s Beverly Oliver, Ward 6’s James Lott and Alderwoman-at-Large Ricki Garrett voted to adopt the map proposed by the NAACP, Plan 7.
Ward 1’s Karen Godfrey, Ward 3’s Robert Chapman and Ward 4’s Chip Wilbanks voted in favor of Plan 3, saying it met their goal of making the fewest changes in the ward lines while meeting the obligation to balance the population among the six districts based on the 2020 census.
The third map being considered that night, Plan 5, received no votes.
Under Plan 7, Ward 4’s white voting age population (WVAP) would drop to 54 percent, from nearly 65 percent under Plan 3. The Black voting age population (BVAP) would climb to 36 percent in Plan 7, compared to about 29 percent under Plan 3. Cascades would remain in Ward 4 under Plan 3.
Wilbanks (Ward 4) was upset by the vote to make such dramatic changes in his ward.
“A majority of the Board was willing to completely gut that ward, Ward 4, and make a wholesale change in that one ward, so they could protect what they felt they needed for re-election,” Wilbanks said after the meeting. “And that’s just the truth of it. And it’s a sad truth.”
He’s convinced that choosing a redistricting plan with fewer changes means less confusion, “so people know where they’re going to vote, know who to call when their ditch backs up or whatever it is.”
Godfrey (Ward 1) echoed Wilbanks’ contention that political considerations played a role in the redistricting process.
“There’s been some work behind the scenes that people have been doing to see what they could get and make sure that they’re re-elected,” said Godfrey. “And, in my opinion, that is not our job as aldermen.”
Chapman (Ward 3) called Plan 7 “geographically difficult and confusing” because of the way parts of it are drawn.
“Every plan that was presented had some change in Ward 3,” said Chapman. The plan that I voted for [Plan 3] shrunk it a little bit, but it was in a logical kind of space that still allowed for relationships to be built and participation even across ward lines.”
After announcing his veto, Fisher sent an email describing additional impacts that the map approved by a majority of the Board would have.
The mayor wrote that:
• Roughly half of the Clinton Park neighborhood would be moved from Ward 3 to Ward 4;
• Huntcliff would be shifted from Ward 3 to Ward 1;
• Hawthorne Drive and half of Twin Oaks would go from Ward 4 to Ward 6;
• Lakeside, including Midway, Sunrise, Sunset and East Lake south of Highway 80, currently in Ward 5, would be split between Wards 4 and 6;
• Mount Salus, Kitchens Drive and Hampstead Boulevard would go from Ward 5 to Ward 6; and
• Trailwood (south side) and Casa Grande would be moved from Ward 5 to Ward 2.
Garrett, Oliver and Martin tried unsuccessfully to postpone the vote for a third time, with Garrett insisting there was no need to rush to adopt a plan. But the rest of the Board was ready to move forward.
Martin (Ward 2) said both plans that were voted on made “drastic changes”—Plan 7 with a heavy impact on Ward 4, and Plan 3 significantly affecting Ward 5, which Oliver represents.
“I really thought a plan could be put together that didn’t do that,” said Martin.
He also said Plan 3 “jumped Ward 2 across Clinton-Raymond Road and picked up a lot of territory off to the side, so it really made Ward 2 look strange.”
But Martin insists he was trying to focus on the entire City.
“I wish that we could have done better than what we did,” said Martin. “But the majority of the Board forced a vote on those two [plans], and [Plan 7] got the most votes.”
Oliver (Ward 5) said she would lose some of her constituents under the plan she helped to pass, mentioning “a chunk of Stonegate and some of Olde Towne.” She was pleased that another neighborhood she represents, Bruenburg, would not be split under Plan 7.
Lott (Ward 6) has voted previously to delay the redistricting decision. But this time, “it was clear that a few Board members were eager to vote, wanted to vote and were tired of pushing it off.”
Lott said it’s been a long process.
“We’ve worked on it for two years off and on, more off than on,” said Lott. Under both plans, Ward 6 would remain the only one in Clinton with a Black voting age majority.
“Outside of Ward 6, the ward with the highest BVAP was Ward 1, with 39 [percent],” Lott noted. “And I think that’s a true reflection of the city of Clinton. It’s 38 to 39 percent African American, even more if you count other minority races.”
After Fisher announced his veto, Lott emailed this message: “Great! Now we can take our time and work on a more collaborative map.”
Local NAACP board member Monica McInnis said, even though Plan 7 would make minority candidates more competitive in parts of Clinton, it wasn’t possible to create a map with a second Black voting age population majority.
“We are spaced out sporadically in the city,” she said. “We have a huddle [of Black residents] here and a huddle there, and they’re not joined.”
But McInnis believes as the city’s population continues to shift, things could change after 2030.
“I think in the next redistricting cycle, there will definitely be another minority district,” said McInnis.
Five votes are needed to override the mayor’s veto. The Board will have the opportunity to make such an attempt at its October 3 meeting.