Calera municipal election winners might not take office

Published 8:58 pm Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Although Calera citizens voted just like everybody else, their city’s Aug. 26 election results may not be valid.

The U.S. Department of Justice has not approved the redistricting plan Calera used in this year’s election. Unless the department approves the plan before Nov. 3, the day the newly elected officials take office, the current mayor and council will have to stay on until a solution can be found, said Frank “Butch” Ellis, Calera city attorney.

The Justice Department has not approved the redistricting plan because officials there want to be sure the new districts do not discriminate against minorities. The new voting lines were drawn as a response to population growth in Calera. The city has grown from 3,158 in the year 2000 to about 10,800 now. The voting lines are intended to even out the population in each district, Ellis said.

“All cities have to keep their populations even among their districts,” Ellis said. “Under federal law, you have to redistrict to get approximately the same number of people in each district.”

Also, according to a letter sent by Assistant Attorney General Grace Chung Becker, the city has not submitted notifications for 177 adopted annexations during the past 13 years. The population growth that spurred the new voting lines is due primarily to residential development on those annexations, Becker wrote.

Under the old district plan, District 2 was a black-majority voting district, and the district has had black representation on the council for 20 years. Under the new plan, District 2 is no longer a black-majority district.

In the Aug. 26 election, Eric Snyder, who is white, received 169 votes to defeat the incumbent, Ernest Montgomery, who is black and who received 167 votes.

“(The Department of Justice) is not satisfied that there’s adequate representation of minorities,” Ellis said. “We are very confident that what we’ve done does not discriminate against anybody. But we’ve got to convince the Justice Department.”

The city is requesting reconsideration from the Department of Justice, Ellis said.

Calera City Clerk Linda Steele said the plan was submitted to the federal government six months before the election, in plenty of time for them to approve it. She said the city went ahead with the new voting lines in the Aug. 26 elections because city attorneys advised them to do so.

Now, election winners are dealing with the aftermath of this situation – the possibility they could have to go through the election process again.

Snyder, the District 2 representative-elect, said he was shocked to hear of the situation.

“There is speculation that we may have to campaign under the old districts, or we may stay the same. It’s all in the hands of the Justice Department right now,” he said. “I know that for me, I got out there, I ran a campaign, and I won the voters of my district. And I came out the winner whether it be by two votes.”

Snyder said he believes Calera is diverse enough that a black-majority district isn’t necessary.

“I think Calera deserves a pat on the back for it being hard to find a minority area. All of our subdivisions are so diverse,” he said.

Montgomery, the District 2 incumbent, said he thought it was a fair election even with the redistricting plan.

“I thought it was the only plan our regional planning people could come up with. I also felt that it was the best plan we could come up with,” he said. “I had a lot of confidence in the people of Calera. I felt they would vote fairly instead of on the basis of skin color.”

Ellis said it’s possible that the Department of Justice will not approve the redistricting lines and that it could be a while before Calera citizens know exactly who will be in office next. The city’s two runoff elections may have to be put off as well.

“Nobody knows but the Justice Department,” he said.