Despite strong objections to changing boundaries, the Brookhaven City Council approved a new council district map during its May 4 meeting.
Throughout its redistricting process, the city published eight draft maps on its website and ultimately moved forward with Scenario 7. Scenario 7 pushes District 2 west into District 3 and north into District 1. The map also moves parts of District 3 south into District 4.
Parts of the Brookhaven Fields area will move from District 3 to District 2. District 3 Councilmember Madeleine Simmons expressed disappointment at that change, and said some constituents in Brookhaven Fields had reached out to her to share their frustration at no longer being in District 3.
“I am not happy about this,” she said. “I don’t like how this has shook out.”
The council reluctantly approved the new council district map ahead of its November elections. The city decided to redistrict before receiving 2020 U.S. Census data, which was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, because of its elections and multiple recent annexations to the city. The annexed areas in question were all added to District 4, causing the city to believe that district would be out of balance with the others.
“The Census is the place that we’re supposed to begin, but because of things related to the pandemic, we don’t have that information,” said City Attorney Chris Balch. “That black hole creates a problem for the city, particularly when we suspected … that the districts were out of alignment and likely illegal.”
During the redistricting process, the possibility of adding a majority-minority district – or a district that has a mostly minority population – was brought up by residents and city leaders alike. In the new map, three of the districts would be majority white and one would be majority-minority.
District 1’s population would be 72.1% white, 12.2% Black or African American, 8.9% Asian, and 4.7% Hispanic or Latino. District 2’s population would be 58.6% white, 7.6% Black or African American, 8.5% Asian, and 22.9% Hispanic or Latino. District 3’s population would be 52.3% white, 10.7% Black or African American, 8.7% Asian, and 26.3% Hispanic or Latino.
District 4 would be 27.8% white, 18.1% Black or African American, 7.9% Asian, and 44% Hispanic or Latino.
In order to change the districts, the council had to approve an amendment to the city’s charter. The city charter delineates council districts, so any change to those districts necessitates a change to the charter.
Most council members were not happy with the new map, but said they would move forward to protect the city from any legal action if the recent annexations created an imbalance in the old council districts.
“It’s one of these things where I wish we didn’t have to do this, but as stewards of the city, I think it’s our responsibility to do so,” said Councilmember John Park. “I would like to say that I would fully support – when we have a little more leeway with what the margins can be and still be in compliance – I would be completely in favor of reevaluating and possibly going back as close as possible to previous lines.”
Councilmember Joe Gebbia also expressed disappointment, saying that some communities of interest he would have rather stayed together were split up in the new map.
“It’s a compromise,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s what we’re here to do – pick the best of the compromises.”
Park asked how soon the city could redistrict again if the new districts did end up being out of balance when the census data is released. Once the census numbers are released, the Georgia General Assembly will meet for a special legislative session for the purposes of redistricting in statewide and federal races.
“In the course of that redistricting, I expect that there will also be an opportunity to submit local legislation to revisit these questions if the data from the census is substantially different,” Balch said. “The census provides a rebuttable presumption of what the population and the population distribution is. If we have numbers that we feel more confident in and that our experts believe are more accurate to what the city’s distribution is and what the demographics are, then we are entitled and can continue to rely on those numbers.”