Calera leaders debate next steps in Justice Department preclearance

Calera leaders met with city attorneys Thursday to discuss options that could lead to the U.S. Department of Justice’s approval of last year’s election results.

“We need to go forward with the accumulation of additional demographic data,” Attorney Frank “Butch” Ellis suggested. “Whatever we’re going to do, we’re going to need that demographic data.”

The Justice Department rejected the city’s 2008 redistricting plan for a second time back in March, claiming the plan eliminates the city’s only black voting district. Mayor-elect Jon Graham and newly elected city council members have not been sworn in as a result of the Justice Department’s decision. Mayor George Roy and the incumbent city council remain in office.

City leaders contend more whites than blacks have moved to Calera, making it difficult to maintain a predominantly black voting district. City leaders also say there is a substantial increase of blacks residing in predominantly white neighborhoods.

Ellis said city leaders can either conduct their own census to collect demographic data, hire a demographer to conduct the census or have a demographer oversee the city-conducted census.

“We’ll do it ourselves, and have a demographer approve it, bless it, monitor it, and make sure the census has transparency, legitimacy, proper protocol and credibility,” Ellis said of the latter option.

The city conducted its own demographic survey last October to meet the Justice Department’s request, but the data was denied. Councilman Jerry Davis said he is wary of embarking on a census only to be rejected again.

“This city can’t afford to keep throwing things (at the Justice Department),” he said. “We’ve got to see the cost on this next step.”

Davis asked City Clerk Linda Steele to provide a record of how much money the city has spent on reversing the Justice Department’s decision. Ellis said hiring a demographer would cost the city approximately $100,000, which the city can’t afford.

Ellis will speak with a demographer from the University of Alabama Friday to discuss a price tag. City leaders will not make a final decision until after Ellis briefs them on Friday’s conversation.