In addition to U.S. senator, lieutenant governor and 10 constitutional amendments, voters in Lafayette Parish will decide Tuesday on a proposition that, if approved, would amend the Lafayette Home Rule Charter to give officials more time to redraw council and school board districts ahead of the October 2011 council election. As it stands, the charter requires the districts, which are the same for both the council and the school board, to be redrawn six months before an election for either body. However, parish officials don’t anticipate receiving results from this year’s census until March, meaning those districts would have to be redrawn, codified in an ordinance and put to a vote of the council within about a month’s time; city-parish attorney Pat Ottinger has warned that will be an impossibly small window to pull it off.
The proposition, although complicated in its wording — especially in its references to separate city and parish councils — effectively erases the six-month requirement in the charter. If the parishwide proposition is voted down and officials are unable to meet the six-month requirement for redrawing the districts, there is a possibility that federal officials could postpone the October 2011 council election.
Lafayette Parish is subject to the federal Voting Rights Act, which requires, among other things, that the parish have two majority-black districts. But since the 2000 census, the parish’s population has migrated south and out of the inner city where those majority-black districts — 3 and 4 — are located, creating an imbalance, with the southern districts overpopulated and the inner city districts underpopulated. A 2009 population estimate of roughly 215,000 parish residents shows districts 3 and 4 with about 17,000 residents apiece; District 9 in south Lafayette Parish is tipping the scale at more than 31,000. The redistricting process is meant to balance the populations in the nine districts, giving each approximately 24,000 residents.
Meanwhile, the Lafayette Charter Commission, which meets Monday evening, is on a trajectory toward recommending the creation — through a parishwide referendum — of a separate council and mayor for the city of Lafayette. The charter commission will wrap up its work at about the same time as the council and school board districts are being redrawn, so any recommendation made by the commission that goes to a parishwide vote couldn’t go into effect, assuming voters approve it, until 2016, or after the council and city-parish president elected in October 2011 finishes their four-year terms.
The proposition on the ballot Tuesday in Lafayette reads as follows:
Parishwide Proposition (Home Rule Charter Amendment) Summary: Amend Section 2-02 of the Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government Home Rule Charter to require redistricting to be accomplished in the manner, and within the time period, specified or prescribed by applicable law, and to require that the redistricting pertain and apply to districts for the election of members of the City Council of the City of Lafayette and of the Parish Council of the Parish of Lafayette if the next succeeding election after publication of federal census data is for such officials.
Shall the Parish of Lafayette, State of Louisiana, amend Section 2-02 of the Home Rule Charter and its title so as to read, as follows: “Section 2-02. Redistricting. Following official publication of the federal census by the United States Bureau of the Census, the council by ordinance shall, if necessary, alter, change or rearrange council district boundaries so as to provide for population equality among the districts as near as reasonably practicable. To the extent possible council districts shall be compact and be composed of contiguous territory. The redistricting shall be accomplished in the manner, and within the time period, specified or prescribed by applicable law. If, at any time, the next succeeding election for members of a governing authority following the official publication of the federal census by the United States Bureau of the Census shall pertain to the election of members of the City Council of the City of Lafayette and/or of the Parish Council of the Parish of Lafayette, the procedure described above shall pertain and apply to the district boundaries for the City Council of the City of Lafayette and/or the Parish Council of the Parish of Lafayette, respectively.”?