Alabaster postpones setting ward boundaries following diversity concerns

Published 8:28 pm Monday, November 27, 2023

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By NOAH WORTHAM | Staff Writer 

ALABASTER – Alabaster City Hall was crowded on Monday, Nov. 27 as residents of Ward 1 gathered to voice their concerns on an ordinance to set ward boundaries.

During the meeting, after holding a public hearing  and receiving feedback and concerns from citizens, the Alabaster City Council voted to table the ordinance and to discuss the issue in greater detail.

Every ten years after the census, each municipality has to amend district lines and set ward boundaries for the city.

According to Councilmember Rick Ellis, the redistricting is a difficult process.

“We have to base each ward on census blocks,” Ellis said. “What we found was frustrating because it doesn’t go by neighborhood, it doesn’t necessarily go by street. Sometimes it goes by creek, sometimes it goes by some other boundary. It’s based on what the census block is.”

Ellis said the committee’s goal was to have a variance of plus or minus 5 percent for each ward.

“The census changes reflect more families moving and citywide annexations,” Ellis said. “A lot of that is due to our school system.”

During the public hearing for the ordinance, the floor was opened to the public to voice support or opposition.

“In times past, Alabaster has had a ward that has always been predominantly Black and always had a voice and a seat at the table based upon the lines that were set back then,” Ward 1 resident Gerry Bivins said. “Because of how the city has drawn the lines, it has had an impact on Blacks or people of color being able to participate in city government.”

Bivins said the surrounding municipalities have Black representation on each city council, but Alabaster—the largest city in the county—does not.

“Our city school motto is ‘Champions of our future,’” Bivins said. “I think that is a good motto. We see that there is diversity in our school system, we see diversity in our athletics. Where there is diversity, only then do we become champions. But without it, we are culturally void of the feelings and concerns of others.

“The burden lies with you guys specifically to make sure that there is fair treatment of representation throughout the city as a whole by any means necessary,”

After Bivins finished his address, Mayor Scott Brakefield addressed the Council and requested that the ordinance be tabled for further discussion. He shared that on Friday, Dec. 1 he is meeting with former councilmember Bobby Harris and Bivins in order to discuss the issue and how to best approach it.

“This is not an easy fix,” Brakefield said. “If you back through the history of Alabaster and the way the wards were originally drawn—the 1990 census we went from five to seven wards—at that time Ward 1 was about 65 percent Black. Over time, the city has diversified and we’ve grown and everybody is living everywhere. I think there is a way that we need to get to the table and have a discussion.”

Following Brakefield’s comments, Councilmember Ellis said he agreed and made a motion to postpone voting on the ordinance.

“Following the guidance from the federal government—this is what we’ve come up with, but I feel like we need to think outside the box,” Ellis said.

Following the meeting,  Bivins shared his thoughts on the council’s decision.

“I feel that is a good start to being able have diversity within our city government,” he said. “I think that’s a good start—I can’t complain about that, but we want to stay on top of it though. We’re going to follow up on it and hopefully do we come up with a resolution when we meet with the mayor.”

Bivins said he has been in Alabaster for 53 years and that while growing up, he always had a Black councilmember to voice the community’s opinions.

“We need representation and I stand on it—I believe in that,” he said. “I think our mayor is doing a great job and I think Ward 1 councilwoman Sophie Martin is doing a great job and she works with the community. It doesn’t matter if you are Black, white or Hispanic, she does—she’s a great leader. But we need someone that will speak on behalf of those of us who have always been there.”