GONZALES — A narrow majority of the Ascension Parish Council backed a reapportionment plan Wednesday in the face of warnings the plan would not pass U.S. Justice Department muster and could prompt a legal challenge.
The council heard from the president of the NAACP chapter, a representative of West Bank Ministers Alliance and demographer Cedric Floyd urging them not to adopt the plan, called B2, because it is in violation of federal voting rights guidelines.
Floyd told the council that B2 would be in violation because it has a lower percentage of black voters than an alternative plan the council considered but rejected.
Floyd and others urged the council to support that plan proposed dubbed A2 by Councilman Oliver Joseph.
Robyn Penn Delaney, presi-dent of the parish chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the group endorsed Joseph’s plan and asked the council to do the same.
She said the NAACP would support any effort to file a Justice Department grievance and lawsuit if the B2 plan is adopted.
But Councilmen Kent Schexnaydre said later that he was satisfied with the B2 plan. He said it would hold up with the Justice Department.
“I have compromised a great deal to get to this point. It would be nice if we could all have our districts exactly the way we wanted,” he said.
The council’s consultant, John Diez, also later urged an up or down vote on the B2 plan, saying a delay would change the timeline to get the plan to the Justice Department for pre-clearance.
The Justice Department needs 60 days to review the plan, and pre-clearance must be ready by Aug. 29 in time for qualifying in early September for the Oct. 22 election.
All the council seats are on the ballot.
“I think we just need to go ahead and vote,” Councilman Dennis Cullen said.
The council voted 6-3, with Councilmen Joseph, Adrian Thompson and George Valentine voting against it.
Council Chairman Pat Bell does not vote unless to break a tie. Councilman Todd Lambert was absent.
At issue was the percentage of minority voters in Joseph’s West Bank District 1, and whether to include one census block of the strongly black West Bank community of Aben in Joseph’s District 1 or Schexnaydre’s District 2.
That census block shift could force changes in other council districts.