Friday, March 14, 2008

Greensboro Neighborhood Congress Writes Complaint to DOJ about City Council Redistricting

The Greensboro Neighborhood Congress has serious qualms about the city council redistricting that happened in such a hurry-up, back-room-deal kind of way recently, and has written to the Department of Justice to complain, not only about the way the redistricting happened, but also about the disadvantages of "Plan Q," the adopted district map.

Update: Tony Wilkins says in the comments, "Can you be specific as to what this means: "Plan Q has obvious political benefits for certain elected representatives and less obvious impacts for some business"? If you're going to make this allegation you should be specific."

I can't speak for the letter-writers, and I wasn't present at the meeting where this was discussed. But Plan Q splits many neighborhoods into different districts, and thus dilutes the political clout of those neighborhoods with the Council. Since unified neighborhoods often oppose the plans of real estate developers like Councilman Matheny, maybe this move is seen as an effort to increase the real estate industry's control over rezoning cases.

Here's the whole letter:

March 12, 2008

Don Jacobsen
Voting Section
Civil Rights Division
Room 7254 - NWB
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20530

Re: City of Greensboro, NC Council Districts

Dear Mr. Jacobsen:

We are writing as Co-Chairs of the Greensboro Neighborhood Congress (GNC), at the direction of the GNC membership, to express the GNC’s strong displeasure concerning the City of Greensboro’s recently adopted City Council redistricting plan that is currently under review by you and other United States Department of Justice personnel. The GNC is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization comprised of neighborhood organizations representing neighborhoods located throughout Greensboro. We currently have 43 member neighborhood organizations that include more than 16,000 households. These neighborhoods are located throughout Greensboro’s five City Council districts, making the GNC one of the most socio-economically and racially diverse organizations in Greensboro. The mission of the GNC is to address issues of citywide concern to neighborhoods and to empower neighborhood leaders to address their specific neighborhoods’ own issues of concern. We focus on advocacy for the improvement of the quality of life in Greensboro neighborhoods and on the education of neighborhood leaders.

On February 19, 2008, our City Council voted to adopt what is known as redistricting “Plan Q” over other redistricting plans, including a “Plan B” that had been recommended by City staff. (We believe that you have been asked to review both the adopted “Plan Q” and the alternative “Plan B.”) At a meeting on March 8, the GNC membership in attendance voted unanimously to comment to the United States Department of Justice to protest the procedural deficiencies involved in the adoption of Plan Q, as well as the substantive deficiencies in Plan Q relative to Plan B. We are writing this letter to you in accord with that mandate.

The GNC membership is particularly dismayed with the manner in which Plan Q was adopted. Unlike Plan B and most of the other plans that were made available for public review and comment well ahead of the Council’s February 19 meeting, Plan Q was unleashed on the public for the first time during the Council’s meeting, by its sponsor, Council Member Zack Matheny, who is the District 3 representative. (In fact, The GNC has been informed that some of the Council Members themselves had only 24 hours or less to review Plan Q prior to the Council meeting.) The public had no opportunity to review any maps depicting the impact of Plan Q before (or even during) the Council’s meeting at which Plan Q was adopted. It is hard to imagine a decision more fundamental to our Country’s democratic processes than a redistricting that will deprive some voters of representation by the candidates they voted into office. For our Council to have made such a decision by adopting an alternative that the public was denied access to until after the fact is simply repugnant. We urge you to reject Plan Q for that reason alone.

We also want to make sure that you are aware of the substantive inferiority of Plan Q relative to Plan B. Plan Q results in 26 voting precincts being shifted from one district to another, whereas Plan B would have shifted 3 precincts. This means that, absent your intervention, voters residing in 26 of Greensboro’s precincts (about one third of the total precincts in the City) will find themselves represented on July 1, 2008 by a candidate whom they did not have the opportunity to vote for in the general election on November 6, 2007. To deprive this many voters of the opportunity for representation by a candidate they had the opportunity to vote for (or against) is a serious usurpation of democratic processes. Plan Q also will split 11 neighborhoods whereas Plan B would split only 5, and the current districting splits 6 neighborhoods. Plan B would therefore result in one less split neighborhood than the status quo, compared to Plan Q, which will double the number of split neighborhoods.

Moreover, Plan Q has a more insidious impact. Under the current districting, Districts 1 and 2 are “majority minority” and Districts 3 and 4 are “majority majority,” whereas District 5 is almost balanced with 47.5% minority population. What this means is that our City’s most likely opportunity to have a third district represented by a minority candidate is in District 5. But Plan Q would dilute the minority population in District 5 down to 41.3%, undermining the prospect of a minority candidate being elected in District 5, and making it unlikely that minority representation on our Council will have any prospect of increasing in the foreseeable future. This is a serious impact, and although some of it is inevitable given that the areas recently annexed by the City have a primarily white population in District 5, Plan Q’s magnification of that dilution relative to Plan B constitutes another serious substantive flaw in Plan Q.

Because Plan Q is flawed substantively compared to Plan B in so many respects, it renders the procedural deficiencies attendant to Plan Q’s adoption all the more suspect, and begs the question of whether Plan Q’s conception and 11th hour unveiling was engineered by special interests. Plan Q has obvious political benefits for certain elected representatives and less obvious impacts for some business interests.

For the reasons set out above, the GNC strongly urges the United States Department of Justice to give Plan Q the strictest scrutiny, and to reject it in favor of Plan B.

Sincerely,

Kathleen Sullivan
Co-Chair
Greensboro Neighborhood Congress

Art Davis
Co-Chair
Greensboro Neighborhood Congress

9 comments:

Darkmoon said...

That's pretty interesting stuff. Glad someone's fighting on our (citizens') behalf. The whole non-transparent vote-in with no leeway for many to review turned the whole voting those into public office into a farce.

If voting it to have someone represent your district, and for better or worse, your councilman/woman is in there... then they're not the one that represents you... it basically laughs in the face of the whole voting process.

Not everyone gives me this feeling on the current council, but the whole of the new city council for this election cycle leaves a bad taste in my mouth after this Plan Q was thrown out there.

Roch101 said...

Misuse of begging the question aside, a very excellent letter. Do you have any idea what the political advantages to some some "business interests" might be under plan Q?

David Wharton said...

Roch, I don't know what the business interests might be, as I wasn't present at the Congress meeting where this was discussed.

Tony Wilkins said...

Can you be specific as to what this means:
"Plan Q has obvious political benefits for certain elected representatives and less obvious impacts for some business"?
If you're going to make this allegation you should be specific.

David Wharton said...

Tony, I didn't make the allegation; I reported on it by posting a letter written by the GNC.

Contact information for the GNC can be found at the link I provided.

(Full disclosure: I'm the GNC webmaster, but have not been otherwise active in the organization for over a year.)

Sue said...

Given that I've received at least 5 emails and other communication from the transportation folks about upcoming meetings (yay! for transparency), it's stunning that Plan Q was never available for public input. I had heard something about transparency during various candidates' campaigns but I get I must have missed that they really didn't mean it.

Hoo-rah for the GNC.

tarheez3 said...

can i please spell it out for you guys the business interest

gime me a t
give me a r
give me a e
give me a b
give me a i
give me a c

Anonymous said...

I agree the complaint is well-written. However, I am unsure whether the argument regarding the impact on minority representation holds water. We have 2 predominant minority districts, represented by African Americans council members, out of 5 (districts 1 and 2). That is 40%.

Is that not roughly proportionate to the share of African Americans in the local population? If anything, this plan would solidify the minority "hold" on at least one of these two districts.

It appears to me that the representation of African Americans, district by district, with the new scheme will be roughly commensurate with their share of the general population locally.

(Of course, we are not speaking of other minorities, although perhaps we should. Hispanics and Asians, for instance, are underrepresented on council.)

Joe Guarino

Anonymous said...

How is this any different than what the school board pulled a few years ago with redistricting High Point students? They were considering redistricting students after the demise of the Choice Plan. They cooked-up a plan that hadn't been presented to the public, pulled it out at the meeting, and approved it without public discussion. This plan required black students to travel all the way across High Point to attend Southwest High. Their buses traveled past Andrews High on the way to Southwest. No one ever asked those students if that is what they wanted, and it caused considerable inconvenience for them and their parents.