Calera delegation to travel to Washington, D.C.

Published 9:50 pm Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Calera City Council passed a resolution on Thursday to send a delegation to Washington, D.C. to meet with U.S. Department of Justice officials about the city’s 2008 redistricting plan.

The resolution comes after the Justice Department’s decision on Tuesday not to approve Calera’s voting districts for a second time. The Justice Department alleges the city eliminated its only majority-minority district, compromising last year’s municipal election. Incumbents have retained their seats while Mayor-elect Jon Graham and newly elected City Council members wait to be sworn in.

Before Mayor George Roy, Graham, and both sets of council members went into executive session to discuss pending litigation, City Attorney Frank “Butch” Ellis briefly reviewed the city’s options with concerned citizens at City Hall.

“There are only two games in town to get preclearance,” Ellis said. “One is Justice Department preclearance. The other is a decision out of U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., which is, of course, an expensive approach to a resolution.”

Ellis continued, “The next logical step is for a delegation to go to Washington, D.C. to meet with Justice Department officials, discuss alternatives to litigation and come back with some idea of what they might approve. There’s no use for us to shoot in the dark.”

The city can’t afford to incur $200,000 in legal fees if the case goes to district court, Ellis said. Calera officials had to cut 13 jobs in January to salvage the city budget. Ellis said going to district court could result in more layoffs.

Ellis hopes to organize a delegation comprised of attorneys and city representatives in 10 to 14 days. It has not been decided who will travel to Washington, D.C., but Ellis said the delegation could be a mix of newly elected officials and incumbents.

Citizens were given the opportunity to voice their concerns after the council returned from executive session and passed the resolution. Some were angered by the council’s decision to go into executive session, but Ellis explained governing bodies may enter executive session to discuss pending litigation or the reputation and character of an employee.