Little Rock Board of Directors to Redraw Ward Boundaries Based on 2020 Census Data

Little Rock officials are set to redraw the boundaries of the city council’s seven wards in the coming months based on new demographics from the US Census Bureau.

In addition to its seven ward-specific representatives, Little Rock’s 10-member board of directors includes three general representatives elected from across the city.

Mayor Frank Scott Jr. recently wrote to council members to advise them of his proposed timeline for the process as well as his priorities for the redistribution.

“The delays in the US census created by the pandemic have had an impact on the process of redrawing the boundaries of our neighborhoods for the coming decade,” Scott wrote in an October 4 email. “Official City data for us to use in the redistribution process has been released, allowing this process to finally move forward.”

The city’s total population as reflected by the 2020 census was 202,591, a record that represents an increase of over 9,000 residents from 2010.

The new total population means that approximately 28,950 people are expected to reside in each neighborhood, Scott wrote, and the new data “will provide details on how the current neighborhood boundaries should be redrawn to account for the gaps created by the changes. population over the past decade ”.

The mayor then listed the principles that he believes should guide the redistribution process.

Scott listed first and foremost “the legal requirements for redistribution (” one person, one vote “, compact and contiguous neighborhoods, respect for communities of interest and the relevant provisions of the Voting Rights Act. ) ”.

Second, Scott said officials need to provide opportunities for public input and a transparent process to ensure residents feel the job has been done fairly.

Third, Scott has targeted Interstate 630, which crosses much of Little Rock from east to west and roughly divides the city into north and south halves.

He wrote: “We must eliminate the I-630 as a dividing line in our community in order to cross that barrier to go through the heart of the city,” he wrote.

Finally, Scott wrote: “To the greatest extent possible, we should avoid neighborhoods that are predominantly monoracial in their makeup to reinforce unity in our representation process. “

The mayor told city managers that he and City Manager Bruce Moore would meet with them individually and simultaneously provide opportunities for the public to contribute.

Scott wrote that he intends to present the redistribution plan to the board and the public by December 7 with a vote on the final cards taking place on December 14.

In response to questions, city spokesman Spencer Watson wrote that passing the new limits will require a two-thirds majority vote of the board.

When asked which people in city departments would lead the effort to redraw the ward boundaries, Watson wrote: “Staff from the Office of Executive Administration and the Planning Department will assist in the effort to redraw the boundaries. neighborhoods. “

In his email to board members earlier this month, Scott provided a map showing each neighborhood overlaid with its new population count.

Northwest Little Rock Ward 5, with 33,914 residents, has the largest population of the seven wards in the 2020 census, according to the map.

As a result, the neighborhood boundaries can be expected to narrow in order to cede the population to neighboring districts.

The second largest neighborhood in terms of population, according to new data, is near Ward 6, with 31,111 residents.

Two neighborhoods that can be expected to expand in geographic boundaries to accommodate population differences are located to the east and southeast of Little Rock.

Ward 1, which encompasses the downtown core and the city’s eastern edge along the Arkansas River, as well as the communities south of I-630, currently has a population of 24,721.

The Ward 1 position is vacant at the moment due to the recent death of former city manager Erma Hendrix, but city managers are due to name a replacement this week.

Likewise, Ward 2, which includes part of south-central Little Rock as well as a narrow strip of land that reaches as far as I-630, has 26,535 residents, placing it under the target population. of about 29,000.

When reached by phone on Monday, Deputy Mayor Lance Hines, who represents Ward 5, argued that the board had the power to conduct the redistribution despite signals from the mayor that his office had l ‘intention to take the lead.

“It’s pretty clear that the board is setting the parameters for the redistribution,” he said. “And I’m happy to have the mayor’s opinion, but he won’t be the one leading this process – it’s the board.”

State law states that the governing body – city council, in Little Rock’s case – in cities with some form of management of government must redistribute neighborhoods after each federal decennial census to account for a change. substantial in the population of districts or wards in the previous census, according to information provided by Little Rock City District Attorney Tom Carpenter.

Regarding the mayor’s priorities listed in the October 4 email, Hines argued that the city already has two neighborhoods that cross I-630 – Ward 6 and Ward 1 – adding that he did not see why “this has to be a driving force; there is nothing in state law or voting rights law that says we have to do this.”

As for avoiding protections which are predominantly monoracial in their makeup, Hines said “we don’t have protections like that. “

In the two neighborhoods he suggested as being the two most racially distinct in terms of black and white resident populations – Ward 1 and Ward 5 – Hines said that “even over there they have a diversity that corresponds to the state as a whole. “

When asked if the boundary changes were likely to cause a brawl or tussle between board members, who often disagree with each other on certain issues, Hines said, “I only expect it to be a fight if the mayor is trying to drive this process and not the board of directors. “

He added: “I think the board can agree on cards a bit like we did 10 years ago when I first joined the board and 20 years ago before. that.”

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