News and Tribune

Clark County

February 25, 2011

Redistricting Jeffersonville: New numbers at play

Thursday hearing on lawsuit between resident, city postponed

JEFFERSONVILLE — Legal action related to Jeffersonville’s recent redistricting has been delayed, but new Census numbers are giving new perspective to the case.

The Jeffersonville City Council redistricted last year, going from a five-district to a six-district council. That move came after an annexation and reclassification that took Jeffersonville from third class to second class under Indiana’s population-based classification system. Shortly after that, a lawsuit was filed claiming that the population numbers used in redistricting — based on the 2000 Census — were too old and therefore didn’t account for growth in recently annexed outskirts.

A pretrial conference on the lawsuit Thursday was postponed, as a new magistrate was assigned to the case, which was filed in U.S. Federal District Court in New Albany. A new date has yet to be determined.

When the council voted to redistrict last fall, numbers from the 2010 Census weren’t available. The 10-year-old numbers on which the redistricting relied assumed the city had a population of about 38,628.

Bruce Herdt, the Oak Park resident and Jeffersonville businessman behind the lawsuit, urged the council to conduct its own count — either through a special Census or by using satellite images to count rooftops in known new developments.

He did so and came up with a population estimate of 42,619.

The city’s official population is 44,953, according to the recently released 2010 Census. Herdt was closer, but city officials still say that using the 2000 numbers was the right move.

“We tried to be as fair as possible,” said Councilman Nathan Samuel, who served as council president at the time of the redistricting.

He said he sought the advice of three attorneys – council attorney Mickey Weber, former council attorney Greg Clark and occasional city attorney Larry Wilder — who all advised that the most recent Census numbers at the time were the most legally defensible figures.

He argued that part of the council’s job is to protect taxpayer dollars from losing lawsuits. Additionally, he argued that Herdt’s methodology was flawed because he didn’t do a rooftop count of the whole city. Instead, as Herdt admits, he did counts only in areas where new development occurred.

Samuel argues that not using the same method of counting citywide would have further degraded the city’s legal defense.

“This will be contested one way or another. Which protects us most from losing a lawsuit,” Samuel asked rhetorically.

The fact that Herdt was closer to the actual number is important, said Mike Gillenwater, Herdt’s attorney.

“You got more people there than you’re counting.”

It’s not a question of whether the council can win a lawsuit based on the 2000 numbers, it’s why would they use them when they have information that says they’re flawed, Gillenwater said.

“We’re talking about your right to representation,” he said.

Gillenwater said the council knew that figures from the older Census made for a population discrepancy greater than 10 percent between council districts.

“None of the city council wanted to run in the area where annexation occurred,” Gillenwater said. “And that’s what happened.”

Under the map that was approved by the redistricting, much of the newly annexed area was contained in its own district. Samuel notes that at-large council members, including himself, will have to run for re-election in those areas, among others.

“We did not sit down and try to carve it up that way,” said Samuel. “We sat down and looked at numbers.”

Now that the new Census has been released, another redistricting is expected this year. However, 2011 municipal elections will be based on the redistricting map that the council approved last year.

Weber was contacted for this story but could not be reached by press time.

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