Starting with next Monday, Halloween, and continuing through the rest of the holidays, the members of the Shelby County Commission will engage in a fundamental redesign. By December 31, New Year’s Eve, they must submit to the county Election Commission a district plan in conformity with the 2010 census.
Josh White of the Office of Planning and Development presented two alternatives to commissioners in committee on Wednesday. Scenario One involved 6 two-member districts with 1 single-member district, while Scenario Two prescribed 13 single-member districts. (The current proportions are 4 three-member districts and 1 single-member district.)
Both plans were calculated with an eye toward ensuring full and proportionate representation for non-Memphis residents (four members in both plans) and compliance with the Voting Right Act in ensuring African Americans the opportunity for proportionate representation (seven seas in both plans).
In the course of a brief discussion, several commissioners expressed a preference for Scenario One. Commissioners Terry Roland and Chris Thomas of what is currently District 4 and Heidi Shafer of District 1 all said that arrangement allowed for useful cooperation and shared responsibility so as to benefit both constituents and the affected commissioners.
Commissioner Steve Mulroy of District 5, at present the commission’s only representative of a single-member district, made the case for Scenario Two, citing the advantages of clearer accountability, ease of contact, and ease of campaigning. Mulroy also noted that a 13-district single-member system could be made to do double duty with districts in the new all-county school board (always presuming a court decree enabled 13 School Board districts rather than the 7 currently mandated by charter).
On the latter point, chairman Walter Bailey, chairman of the commission’s Ad Hoc Committee on Redistricting, suggested that a court decree could also waive the existing requirement for single-member School Board districts, thereby allowing the Scenario 1 dual-member system to be applied to the School Board as well.
In the end, those commissioners present voted 5-1-1 (Mulroy voting no; Sidney Chism abstaining) to submit Scenario 1 for discussion on the agenda at the commissioner’s next meeting on Monday, October 31.
Passage of a redistricting ordinance requires three readings, with the last one passing the commission by a two/thirds majority.