Commission Redistricting Moves to Final Vote

By Bill Dries

The Shelby County Commission’s overtime deliberations on redistricting have pulled in elements of other political issues.


There was a move to oust Sidney Chism as chairman and scramble the commission’s already tentative party line divisions. There was the suburban versus urban dynamic and even an intra-party dispute among Republicans on the commission.


But when nine commissioners voted Monday, Feb. 20, for a redistricting plan that will fundamentally reorganize the commission into 13 single-member districts it was also partially a reaction to a plan waiting in the wings.

Commissioner Henri Brooks had been the seventh vote in favor of the single-member district plan. But then Brooks began pushing for a single-member district plan that created eight districts with a majority African-American voting age population instead of the seven majority black districts in the plan that passed this week.

She lost on first reading two weeks ago and returned again on the second of three readings this week to say she wants to see a map drafted by the Office of Planning and Development showing her preference.

It would be the 36th map OPD officials have drafted at the request of commissioners for their discussion since November. And it would build on what is already a majority on the 13-member body of seven majority black population districts in the plan that advanced Monday to third reading. Brooks didn’t see it that way.

“What we have here to me represents the minority taking over positions of the majority. You have a minority white population that is being given precedence over the majority black population,” she said in coming out against the single-member districts.

“Let’s not get hung up on the terms black and white. … That’s in our DNA. I use those terms because that’s the reality of what we’re dealing with here.”

The 13-member body now has six African-American commissioners.

Commissioner Justin Ford didn’t embrace the specific plan Brooks favors. But her remarks did prompt him to say the single-member districts were “another way to suppress voters.”

Commissioner Chris Thomas was among those who said seven majority black population districts correspond to the 53 percent of the county population that is black.

Brooks’ switch from single-member districts could have killed the plan on second reading. Instead, Thomas and fellow Republican commissioner Heidi Shafer as well as Democratic commissioner Melvin Burgess switched sides and voted for the single-member district plan for a net gain of two votes for the proposal.

“Now we’ve had nine votes on this. I don’t know what will happen over the next three weeks,” Thomas said after the vote. “I want to get a plan that’s going to work for the whole community and something that will keep us out of court.”

He still favors keeping the five-district set up and tweaking the lines of that.

Thomas made no guarantees about his vote on third and final reading in three weeks when a nine-vote, two-thirds majority will be required for passage.

“I think that’s best for the community but what I am trying to do is move this down the road,” he said. “I want to see what happens and I don’t know what will happen. … At some point we’ve all got to come together and try to figure out if we’re not going to get our No. 1 option, what is our No. 2? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”

Shafer seemed a more solid “yes” vote on third reading, saying she is “willing to make the compromise.”

“Eventually we do have to close up business here,” she said. “We have to get something decided here. I didn’t want the great to be the enemy of the good here.”