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Feds to receive not just one, but 12 redistricting plans from Greensboro

by Jordan Green

The city of Greensboro will send a dozen redistricting plans to the US Justice Department for review, while indicating a preference for one developed by Zack Matheny. The councilman’s Plan Q withstood a challenge from four of his colleagues in a vote taken on March 18.

At-large Councilman Robbie Perkins introduced a motion to reconsider Plan Q, which was adopted by the council on Feb. 19, after Plan B, a scheme championed by District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small, failed to win majority support. Perkins’ effort to overturn the plan garnered votes from Bellamy-Small, Mayor Yvonne Johnson and District 2 Councilwoman Goldie Wells – the same bloc that originally supported Bellamy-Small’s Plan B.

Perkins indicated that he timed the vote to reconsider Plan Q for after council members received a copy of a scathing letter from the Greensboro Neighborhood Congress to the US Justice Department’s Voting Rights Section denouncing the plan. According to the letter, which was drafted by co-chairs Kathleen Sullivan and Art Davis, the neighborhood congress voted unanimously on March 8 “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.”

The neighborhood congress objected to Plan Q being approved without being available for prior review by the public. “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,” Sullivan and Davis wrote. “For our council to have 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.”

Matheny had notified Bellamy-Small and Wells of his plan at a dinner for homeless people at the Greensboro Public Library on the evening before the vote took place, telling them he didn’t expect them to like it. Perkins recounted that “Plan Q was delivered personally to me by Mr. Matheny to my house on the evening before the vote.” At-large Councilwoman Mary Rakestraw, a supporter of Plan Q, discussed the plan with Matheny the previous week during a training session for elected officials in High Point.

“Zack, we should have advertised it and had a public hearing,” the mayor said.

Wells, the District 2 representative, complained that Plan Q stripped the city’s two majority-minority districts of significant assets.

“You took one of the jewels out of my district,” she said. “You took Fisher Park. You talk about equity. District 1 needs an economic boost. One of those precincts would have given District 1 an economic boost. You talk about gerrymandering – I think that’s what was done.” She added that the transfer of Fisher Park from her district to the one represented by Matheny takes away a precinct where she enjoyed strong support from voters.

Matheny, like Rakestraw and District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade, displayed visible frustration at the challenge. He criticized the alternate Plan B as “cherry picking” because it would shift Four Seasons Town Centre from Wade’s district to the one represented by Bellamy-Small. He said the newly annexed Cardinal neighborhood near Piedmont Triad International Airport needed fresh representation to avoid constituent animosity towards members of the previous council who approved expansion of the city’s footprint. Under Plan B, the Cardinal would have been represented by Councilman Mike Barber, who is serving his second term as the District 4 representative.

“I worked hard on it, and I stand by it,” Matheny said.

The Justice Department typically takes 60 days to review redistricting plans. Under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, most of North Carolina’s counties are required to submit redistricting plans to the federal government for pre-clearance. Should the plan be approved, it will go into effect on June 30. During the Feb. 19 meeting, both Matheny and Barber had cautioned Assistant City Attorney Jerry Kontos against stating that Plan B, which was developed by staff, held advantages over Plan Q in meeting the Justice Department’s criteria.

At-large Councilwoman Sandra Anderson Groat, whose vote last month was crucial in denying Plan B majority support, said she thought that all 12 plans would go to the Justice Department for review. That had not previously been the case, but the council instructed City Manager Mitchell Johnson to do so after the vote was taken at the March 18 meeting. The Justice Department will be accepting public comment on the relative merits of the 12 plans.

Plan Q divides the newly annexed Cardinal between districts 3 and 5, transfers established southeastern neighborhoods such as Lindley Park from District 5 to District 4, and absorbs all of downtown into Matheny’s district. Plan Q also ejects Sandy Carmany, a former representative who was defeated by Wade last November, from District 5, discouraging her from attempting to regain her seat.

In numerical terms, Plan B and Plan Q significantly differ in criteria set by the Justice Department. For example, the variance between largest and smallest district in Plan B is 3.7 percent, compared to 6.5 percent in Plan Q. Plan B moves three precincts while Plan Q moves 26. Plan B divides five neighborhoods, while Plan Q splits 11 neighborhoods. Both plans maintain districts that are relatively compact, with the exception that in Plan Q District 5 takes on a wishbone shape, encompassing newer residential areas in a district with historically low voter turnout.

The neighborhood congress co-chairs said Plan Q would have an “insidious impact” on the racial makeup of the city’s electoral map. “Our city’s most likely opportunity to have a third district represented by a minority candidate is in District 5,” they said. “But Plan Q would dilute the minority population in District 5 down to 41.3 percent, 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.”

Urging the department to reject Matheny’s plan in favor of the one developed by staff, the neighborhood congress told the Justice Department: “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.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.

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