Saturday, July 22, 2006

Waveland Annexes Land

Annexation excludes vote
Residents can't vote in primary
WAVELAND - Newly annexed residents here will not have a say in Tuesday's party primaries for mayor and aldermen, according to a letter Wednesday from the Justice Department.
However, voters who register to vote before 5 p.m. on Monday will be allowed to vote for mayor and aldermen in the Dec. 5 general election.
The city had been awaiting an official decision from the federal government for several weeks on whether nearly 1,000 residents would be included in next week's vote.
The residents officially became Waveland citizens in July when the city settled an annexation dispute with neighboring Bay St. Louis in a deal that gave Waveland a stretch of land along the western right of way of Mississippi 603.
According to federal legislation adopted in the 1960s, the Justice Department must review changes in ballot procedures, voting districts and other electoral rules in several states - mostly in the South - to ensure that minorities maintain influence in elections.
In the settlement, Bay St. Louis took a massive slice of land between the highway and the Jourdan River, stretching north to Interstate 10.
Many residents on both sides of the highway were anti-annexation, and some believe Waveland purposely delayed a federal decision to eliminate the disgruntled new voters from this year's election.
Earlier this year, Waveland attorney Zach Butterworth said the city was hoping to have a decision at least 30 days before the party primaries, which would have given the new residents time to become registered voters.
On Wednesday, Butterworth dismissed claims of malice and said federal approval simply took longer than the city first thought.
GOP mayoral candidate Craig Cameron, who is looking to make history by becoming the city's first black mayor and just the second Republican ever to hold the city's top office, said a chunk of new votes made available days before the election could muddy the campaign for any candidate.
"I have no way of knowing whether anything was done to purposely exclude them," Cameron said. "Having new voters at the last minute could complicate things for all the candidates, but I am very sympathetic to (the new residents') concerns."
Mayor Tommy Longo said the court denied a request last year from Waveland, asking to postpone an annexation decision until the two cities could recover from Hurricane Katrina.
"There wasn't much we could do," Longo said. "The annexed land was handed to us, and we asked to get a decision on the new voters as quickly as we could, but we were at the mercy of the federal government."

Waveland may need fifth ward
By DWAYNE BREMERJul 22, 2006, 18:10
With less than five months before Waveland's municipal election, the question of how the Katrina ravaged city will provide representation to the residents in more than two square miles of annex land is a unique challenge facing city leaders.Wednesday evening, Ward Four Alderman Santo Saucier asked Mayor Tommy Longo if the city is actively working on the issue."
We have been talking to the justice department to find out the quickest and easiest way to do it," he said. "I really want to have representation for these people as soon as possible. I would like to have something in place for this year's election."
He said the board could choose to add another alderman and redistrict or enlarge current district boundaries, but no matter which direction the city chooses to go, it must meet justice department requirements. He did admit the redistricting process may not be completed until after this year's election.
One of the duties the justice department will have to perform is to ensure no gerrymandering occurs. Gerrymandering is a term used to describe when boundaries are formed which give a specific advantage or disadvantage to one candidate, political party, or minority group. According to the Mississippi Code of 1972, Section 21-3-7-d, "if annexation of territory into the municipal limits shall occur less than six months prior to the first primary of a general election, the council shall by ordinance assign such annexed territory to an adjacent ward or wards so as to maintain as nearly as possible substantial equality of population between wards.
"Currently, the city operates under a mayor-alderman system of government. The city has four aldermen. In any form of municipal government, Mississippi statute allows the mayor may cast the deciding vote if there is tie.
According to city Attorney Zach Butterworth, the charter for the city of Waveland was adopted in 1888. At the time of the adoption, the city only had two aldermen some time later, the number was amended to four, he said.
Mayoral candidate Milton Bernard claims state statute calls for municipalities having 10,000 or less residents to have five aldermen and the form of local government has no influence over the state statute. Longo contends it is the board of aldermen's decision on whether to have a fifth member because the city's charter was adopted in 1888 and the code charter system, to which Bernard refers was adopted in 1942.
The city of Bay St.Louis is under the mayor-council form of government. It stipulates five council members with four wards and a councilman-at-large.Bay St. Louis faces the same challenge Waveland does in finding representation for its newly-annexed area; however, the Bay St. Louis elections are three years away.
Mayor Eddie Favre said Thursday the city is also considering redistricting or possibly adding additional wards.


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