The FIX IS IN: Council District reapportionment on tonight’s agenda

Demographics generated post census, prior to any workshop.

I have computed the new 2020 Census population into the Parish Council’s current election districts. The average population is calculated by dividing the 2020 Ascension Parish count of 126,500 by the eleven election districts. The results are depicted above.

If any district is outside a +/-5% deviation from the ideal population of 11,500 persons then redistricting is necessary to rebalance the election districts among each other. Since the determination has shown that 5 districts are outside the allowable deviation range, then redistricting must take place.

That was the memo sent by Mike Hefner of Geographic & Planning and Demographic Services to commence the process of drawing new Ascension Council District lines after the 2020 US Census.  Five of the 11 Council districts violated the maxim, any one of which singly mandate redistricting for being outside a +/-5% deviation from the ideal population” according to Hefner’s “determination” letter.  Three subsequent workshops in the books, seven maps having been produced, and the Council will take up the issue at the end of tonight’s agenda.

Discussion and Presentation of Proposed District Maps for Council District Reapportionment (Mike Hefner, Geographic Planning and Development Services, LLC)

Unfortunately, Mike Hefner takes his marching orders from a Council, the majority of whom could not care less about the Voting Rights Act, their constituents or anything other than reelection.  Two maps are included on the agenda, both of which violate the principle justification for redistricting.  Both proposals include districts outside the +/-5% deviation.

Maps 4A and 4B, the sixth and seventh produced by Hefner’s software…

Demographics for Plan 4A and Plan 4B

are the only two included in tonight’s meeting packet.  Plan 4A violates Hefner’s maxim in District 2 which would, if adopted, include only 10,839 residents -5.7% (below the ideal of 11,500).  Plan 4B is even worse, with two districts in violation of the principle, District 2 and District 11, the latter would be 5.5% above the ideal.

Conceding the complexities of the task at hand, it could be justified if not for the fact that Plan 4 exists…

Plan 4 demographics

and it is consistent with first principles, without a district outside the stated parameters.  Worse still, adoption of Plan 4A or Plan 4B would mean that Ascension’s west bank would have only one district (Districts 1 and 2 currently represent the west bank).

Plan 4A map.

Plan 4 B map

It is important because west bank council members sit Ex Officio on the West Ascension Drainage Board.  Does anyone think it wise to leave all WA Drainage’s decisions on expenditures up to one individual (Councilman Alvin “Coach” Thomas if either plan were the law now)?

“It’s complicated,” you might be tempted to suggest.  You would be wrong…

Plan 4 map

because Plan 4 does not include that defect, and it was produced prior to the other two.  In fact, it is similar to the current map which has been in existence, basically, for two decades.  In the memo attached to Plan 4 Mike Hefner wrote:

Since our last workshop (the second one), I have been taking a fresh look at the various plans we have been exploring. One of my concerns is that we are straying fairly far from our current district boundaries in some areas which can cause some voter confusion. Also, the number of precincts being split is something I am concerned with because with each split we have to create a new precinct. This adds to the costs of elections and can sometimes put a strain on polling locations.

Plan 4 is transmitted with this memo. I tried to use whole precincts to the greatest extent possible. I also tried to have the various areas of the Parish represented by districts that are a bit more compact.

The plan meets the requirements of the Voting Rights Act and applicable state statutes. Minority representation is maintained, and the west bank is represented by two districts.

The demographics of Plan 4 (are included above).  By way of comparison on the precinct splits, the major plan configurations we have discussed had the following precinct splits:

Plan 1:  7
Plan 2:  14
Plan 3:  11
Plan 4:  4

With all the necessary boxes checked, why did Mike Hefner go back to undo a perfectly good map.  The excerpted memo he attached to Plans 4A/4B, the day after the Council’s third and final workshop:

During the workshop we improved the plan I worked up which melded certain qualities from Plan 1 and Plan 4. Two versions of that plan are being transmitted with this memo (see above).

Plan 4A represents the changes made in the north part of the Parish during the workshop. That plan had 3 precinct splits. Plan 4B incorporates the small change in District 3 and moving the boundary between Districts 5 and 7 to the current boundary along the northern boundary of the Parish (in the Colonial streets area). It has 5 precinct splits. The demographics of the two plans (can be seen above)

Improved the plan?  Really?  It will be interesting to hear Mike Hefner back up that assertion.

Both Plan 4A and Plan 4B introduce districts that exceed the maximum allowable deviation; +/-5%.  Recalling that Hefner, himself, began this process by declaring that, “If any district is outside a +/-5% deviation from the ideal population of 11,500 persons then redistricting is necessary to rebalance the election districts among each other. Since the determination has shown that 5 districts are outside the allowable deviation range, then redistricting must take place.”

The average district deviation from the ideal for Plan 4A is 3.1%, for Plan 4B it is 3.2%.  By that metric these two plans are the worst among all seven plans produced by Mike Hefner.  Plan 4’s deviation from the ideal is 2.6%, significantly better than those plans Hefner deems “improved.”  In practice, adoption of either Plan 4A or Plan 4B would defeat the purpose of reapportionment.

Not only that, but both 4A and 4B include a single west bank district.  Also, significantly more district boundaries are changed even though Hefner warned against doing so to avoid voter confusion.  Considering all criteria stated by Mike Hefner, Plan 4 is superior in every respect.

Which begs the question, why the nearly identical Plan 4A and Plan 4B are the only ones on tonight’s agenda for consideration?

Why isn’t Plan 4 also being considered?  It presents an actual choice between different options, and seems superior in just about every respect.

The answer lies in a recap of Council Workshop #3 when Prairieville Councilman Aaron Lawler pencil-whipped Hefner’s work product into a friendlier district in which to seek reelection.  Lawler, apparently having figured out that retaining the voters in Precinct 8 would seal his electoral doom in 2023, directed Hefner to swap the precinct for No. 1, currently in District 4.

From left to right at top: Districts 4 (blue)/ 7 (yellow)/ 5 (blue); District 11 (pink)

Precinct 8 includes Willow Lake Subdivision among its 2100 voters, many of whom are out to get the two-term councilman for a variety of reasons.

Mike Hefner, inexplicably (assuming he values his professional reputation) accommodated the District 7 member.  It remains to be seen which of ten other council members are in on this fix.

Tonight’s agenda item contemplates discussion only, adoption of newly-apportioned districts can only be accomplished via ordinance.  We’ve been led to expect introduction of such an ordinance at the first Council meeting in December, then a final vote at the next meeting.

NOTE:  Historically the Council has only held one meeting in December, so the vote could be pushed to January.