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Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome speaks before the metro council, Wednesday, January 12, 2022, at City Hall in Baton Rouge, La.

More than half of the single-member districts making up the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council have experienced population shifts over the last decade, mandating their boundaries be reconfigured this year. 

And the conversation around redistricting will surely eclipse any other issues the 12-member body takes up this year, especially since local interest groups are already threatening legal recourse should the shakeup not set the stage for more majority-minority representation mirroring demographic shifts in the 2020 U.S. Census. 

A demographer has been hired to shepherd city-parish leaders through the process, and this week the Metro Council will consider adopting an ordinance acknowledging that redistricting needs to happen based on updated population figures. 

The representatives from most of the eight districts the ordinance singles out as having populations that have fallen outside of the allowable +/- 5% deviation of the "ideal district population," which is 38,065, say they're trying to educate themselves on the census data and redistricting mandates as they begin the process. 

And some, like Councilman Cleve Dunn, Jr., are preparing for what could be a contentious fight over representation, as what is currently taking place with the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. 

"There will be folks like me who want to evolve, and folks who like it the way it is," he said. "Typically, governmental bodies reflect the demographics of the areas they serve. The laws will be on the side of that position. If for some reason that doesn't happen, we open ourselves to litigation."

The 2020 Census has East Baton Rouge's population count at 456,781. Some 42% of them identified as White and 46% as Black. 

The current makeup of the Metro Council is seven White Republicans and five Black Democrats. 

Dunn, who is Black, believes the census data shows that the Metro Council should have at least two more majority-minority districts to reflect the parish population. Most of his colleagues in districts outside the allowable deviation aren't ready to talk yet on the specifics on what districts should look like. 

"I recognize things will be changed; I've looked at the population numbers and (my district) saw a tremendous increase and become more diverse," said Councilman Rowdy Gaudet, one of the council's White Republicans. "I just want to make sure it's a transparent process."

Council districts 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9 and 11 all have population percentages above or below the 38,065 threshold — half of them are majority-White and the other half majority-Black. 

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In most of the majority-White districts, Whites still, significantly outumber Blacks except in District 1 where the racial gap is a lot closer, with Whites making up 51% of its population and Blacks 43%. Blacks still far outnumber whites in all four of the majority-minority districts the ordinance includes.   

Gaudet's district, which is 3, had the largest deviation percentage with a 19.2% gain above the ideal population number. The percentage gains were reflected in districts 9, 11 and 1 with 11.4%, 7.3% and 6.9%, respectively. 

Districts 2, 5, 6 and 7 had population percentage losses that came in at 17.9%, 9.9%, 9.2% and 10.8%, respectively, below the ideal district number. 

"I'm looking forward to having discussions with the demographer once he's able to report back on his findings," said Councilman Dwight Hudson, who is White and represents District 9. "I simply want to wait and hear from the experts and then go from there. I think the discussion next week won't be that technical. Just us saying which district has too much and which can take on more." 

Councilwoman Laurie Adams, another White Republican on the council, is focused right now on educating herself on the federal and state laws surrounding the redistricting process so she can understand what her responsibilities as it relates to reapportionment. 

"There is no part of my district I want to lose — that will be the hard part," she said. 

The council has hired Geographic Planning and Demographic Services as its demographer — the same company the parish School Board is utilizing for its reapportionment. 

Council Administrator Ashley Beck said once the Metro Council adopts the ordinance declaring that redistricting is required for the body, workshops will be scheduled with the demographer and the Metro Council which will be open to the public. 

"I imagine we will schedule several of these workshops, but I’ll have to see how the first one goes to see if(or) when additional workshops will be held," she said. "During the workshop, (the demographer) will be able to answer questions from the council members and members of the public and he will be able to explore new district lines in real time."

Beck said there will also be public meetings once some plans have been formulated and those will likely take place in libraries and community centers to allow residents to view and comment on the plans.

The district maps will be effective for the 2024 Metro Council elections.


Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com