BCN Staff – Oct. 18, 2021 – In the face of the Arkansas Legislature moving forward with redistricting plans to reshape Pulaski County’s congressional boundaries, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. is asking Little Rock City Directors to consider two new maps that realigns the city’s seven wards to handle the city’s decade-long population growth and more diverse demographics.
In email communications sent to all ten city directors on Monday, including newly appointed member Virgil Miller who is replacing the late Erma Hendrix in Ward 1, Mayor Scott said his ideas on how the city should redraw city wards is based on 2020 Census data and federal redistricting law. Under the Little Rock’s Council-Manager form of government each city resident is represented by one of seven directors elected from within a particular ward. In addition, each resident is represented by the sitting mayor and three directors elected at-large who represent the entire city.
In his communications ahead of Tuesday’s regular city board meeting, Scott highlighted the fact that two identical redistricting bills were approved during the recent special session by the state legislature on Sept. 29, splitting more than 21,000 Black voters in Pulaski County into three congressional districts. After Gov. Asa Hutchinson refused to veto or sign the controversial measures last week, those two unsigned bills became Act 1114 and Act 1116 of 2021 on Oct. 13.
Because the Arkansas House and Senate failed to attach an emergency clause to make the bills effective immediately, they will not go into effect until 90 days after the legislature adjourns, which is Jan. 14, 2022. That gives several groups, including possibly the City of Little Rock, time to file state and federal lawsuits and gather at least 54,000 signatures to petition Arkansas voters to remove the new law from the books.
“As the redistricting process has unfolded at the State legislature and potentially our judicial system, I think it is imperative that we pay close attention and learn from some of the challenges they are facing,” Scott said in his one-page email, which was also copied to City Manager Bruce Moore and City Attorney Tom Carpenter.
“It is evident that the decision to split Little Rock and Pulaski County into multiple Congressional districts is both irrational and intended to suppress the voices of many of our residents,” Scott continued. “If we follow the stated principles to guide our redistricting process, then we can have a fair, equitable, transparent, and participatory process that we can all be proud of.”
The mayor’s new map proposal also comes exactly two months after he held a press conference at the Little Rock Hall to introduce new 2020 Census data showing that Little Rock now has 202,591 residents, the first time in state history that an Arkansas city has surpassed the 200K mark. According to Scott, the new count represents an increase of 9,067 new residents in the past 10 years, or a growth rate of 4.69%.
The Census data also show a diversifying city, Mayor Scott said, with a large gain among the population identifying as “two or more races,” up 3,374 to 11,626 or up 244.58%. Those identifying as “white alone” make up 44% of the population, while all other single and multiracial categories comprise 56% of the city’s residents. The Hispanic and Latino population (of any race) grew from 13,076 to 20,285, a growth rate of 55.13%.
To account for those changes, Mayor Scott’s first draft map here proposes that city officials redraw new boundaries in a comparable manner as past redistricting efforts by keeping every director in their current ward with the least amount of change. Like the redrawing of the congressional districts by the legislature, the City of Little Rock must redraw the geographic boundaries from which voters elect city council and school board representatives while accounting for population and demographic shifts from the 2020 Census.
Mayor Scott’s second map proposal, however, offers more dramatic changes to the city’s ward boundaries using what he called “recommended principles of redistricting.” Under this map, the city would reshape the boundaries of six of the seven districts across the city except for the far west Ward 5, which is now represented by Vice Mayor Lance Hines.
“Wards are compact and contiguous, all neighborhoods and communities of interest are kept intact, I-630 is eliminated as a boundary and no longer divides our Wards, each ward closely resembles the makeup of the city, and each ward is closer to our target number of 28,950,” wrote Scott.
In his one-page communique, which included two draft maps and attached spreadsheets with new population and demographic breakout, noted that the maps were not final but only a proposal to set the table for the city’s redistricting efforts.
“This is simply a path to start our conversation about redistricting and look at how we have completed the process in the past compared to how we can improve the process,” said Scott, whose “Rebuild the Rock” sales tax extension plans were rejected by voters in a Sept. 15 special election.
In addition, Scott also provided the city directors a set of four principles he recommended should guide this redistricting process, including:
- “First and foremost, we must be guided by the legal requirements for redistricting (“one person, one vote,” compact and contiguous wards, respect for communities of interest, and the relevant provisions of the Voting Rights Act).”
- “We must also provide opportunities for genuine public input on the process. Relatedly, we should carry out a process that is transparent so that all of our community feels that this important work has been done fairly.”
- “We must eliminate I-630 as a dividing line in our community with an eye to crossing that barrier for wards through the heart of the City.”
- “To the greatest degree possible, we should avoid wards that are overwhelmingly single-race in their composition to enhance unity in our representation process.”
Besides Miller and Hines, the city’s other “ward” directors include Ken Richardson (Ward 2), Kathy Webb (Ward 3), Capi Peck (Ward 4), Doris Wright (Ward 6) and B.J. Wyrick (Ward 7). The city’s at-large directors are Dr. Dean Kumpuris (Position 8), Antwan Phillips (Position 9), and Joan Adcock (Position 10).
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