A possible option for the city’s new council districts map shows three districts that are majority-white and one with a majority of minority populations. The presentation comes amid calls for a majority-minority district and better representation for residents living along the Buford Highway corridor.
Brookhaven hired the consulting firm FLO Analytics to help with redistricting efforts ahead of the city’s November elections. The city has decided to redistrict ahead of the release of 2020 U.S. Census data, which was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, because of its upcoming elections and numerous recent annexations to the city.
Prior to an April 28 redistricting town hall, the City Council considered an amendment to the city’s charter for redrawing council districts at its April 27 meeting. According to city spokesperson Burke Brennan, the council districts are delineated in the city’s charter, so any change to the districts would necessitate a change to the charter.
The council doesn’t normally vote on “first reads,” or introductions, of legislation at council meetings. Brennan said this was a procedural, but non-binding, vote. The council will hold a final vote on the charter amendment and the map at its May 4 meeting.
“They did vote to approve the read,” he said. “But it doesn’t have any bearing … it’s like a prerequisite to the vote that binds.”
Initially, the city presented five map drafts at an April 20 town hall meeting. By the time the city held its second hybrid town hall meeting at the Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce on April 28, three more maps had been added to the city’s website. The sixth scenario was requested by Councilmember Joe Gebbia, but Brennan said that scenario did not follow census tract lines, which is required for redistricting. The city then added Scenario Seven and Scenario Eight based on public input, said Brennan. At the Reporter’s deadline, there were only eight maps on the city’s website.
During the meeting, the city presented the map for Scenario Seven only. Mayor John Ernst indicated the council preferred Scenario Seven, but no final decision will be made until the May 4 vote.
He said that “… we are looking to pass it next Tuesday. But any option is technically viable up until the point where we pass the maps.”
In Scenario Seven, Districts 1, 2 and 3 are majority white. District 4 is plurality Hispanic, making up 44% of the population. District 4 would also be 18.1% African American or Black, 7.9% Asian, and 27.8% white.
During Brookhaven’s redistricting process this year, community leaders have brought up the possibility of creating a majority-minority district — a district composed of mostly racial or ethnic minorities. According to Brennan, the sixth map Gebbia requested was made in an attempt to keep all of the Buford Highway corridor — which has a large Hispanic population — in one district. Scenario Seven does offer a plurality to Hispanic voters and creates a majority-minority district when minority voters are combined. But some of the other drafts offered on the city’s website had higher percentages. For example, Scenario Three’s District 2 would have been 56% Hispanic.
The neighboring city of Chamblee, which also has many new annexed areas, recently proposed creating a majority-minority district. Santiago Marquez, CEO of the Brookhaven-based Latin American Association, said in an interview with the Reporter that while he hasn’t been able to look at the district maps yet, the LAA would be interested in the possibility of a majority-minority district.
“If it makes sense, I think that would be wonderful,” Marquez said. “We’re here to serve the Latino community but also the entire community. Our interest is to make sure that the Latino community and the folks that come to our building looking for help with civil services have a voice and are being taken care of, and their concerns are being represented at all levels.”
Ben Griffith, an election law expert and adjunct professor at University of Mississippi School of Law who the city has brought in as a consultant, spoke at the April 28 meeting. He said there is no indication that Brookhaven has had issues with “white racial … polarized voting.”
“Those are the key things that we would be looking for in determining whether there’s a need to go into a further detailed process of creating a majority-minority district,” he said.
Questions about representation came up during both town hall meetings, along with concerns about keeping certain neighborhoods together. During the April 20 meeting, resident Jason Talley asked what goals the city has for redistricting and how Brookhaven is thinking through “the goals of representation and ways in which those goals are not adequately served by the status quo/current district model.”
City Attorney Chris Balch did not mention diversity or the possibility of a majority-minority district in his answer to Talley’s question, but said the main goal of the process is to make sure districts are balanced.
“The only goal of this redistricting is to make sure that we have equally divided populations — or nearly equally divided populations — amongst the four representative districts of the city as [much as] it’s possible to do based on the requirements that state and federal law impose on us,” Balch said. “There is no subterfuge or underhanded goal here other than making sure that we have districts that adequately represent one person, one vote as required by the U.S. Constitution and that meet the legal requirements of state and federal law otherwise.”
According to Brookhaven’s Social Justice, Race and Equity Commission’s website, 53% of the city’s population is white, 10% of the population is Black, 5% is Asian and 30% is Hispanic or Latino. According to the website, those numbers are based on previous U.S. Census data. Hispanic is an ethnicity, and can include people of different races. Since ethnicity and race are collected separately by the census, it is possible the white or Black statistics on the city’s website include parts of the Hispanic population, Brennan said in an email.
The current City Council has only one non-white member, Councilmember John Park, who was born in South Korea. There are no Hispanic or Latino representatives, despite the large Hispanic and Latino population along the Buford Highway Corridor.
At the April 28 meeting, Gebbia said while none of the scenarios were perfect, he did think Scenario Seven is a good compromise and keeps the populations between districts in balance.
“None of the scenarios were the best that we wanted as individual council members,” Gebbia said. “It was a compromise, obviously. But the goal was to have it be as close to zero discrepancy between the population bases.”