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West Monroe, Feds agree on election plan



WEST MONROE, La. – West Monroe aldermen took another step Tuesday night toward ensuring a black candidate is elected to the Board of Aldermen in future elections.

Aldermen amended a city ordinance to establish three single-member districts for the Board of Aldermen as well as two at-large districts. At least one of the single-member districts would include more than enough black voters to ensure the election of a black candidate to the board.

The amendment to the ordinance was in response to an agreement the city reached last month to settle a lawsuit that the U.S. Department of Justice filed against West Monroe. The lawsuit claimed the city’s existing manner of electing five at-large aldermen prohibited a black candidate from being elected to the board.

Aldermen acted on the ordinance matter, plus much more, at their regular meeting.

City attorney Doug Caldwell said Justice Department attorneys had already reviewed the proposed change to the ordinance governing the election of aldermen in West Monroe and were okay with it.

“Overall, it’s a good deal,” Caldwell said.

Mayor Staci Mitchell said she was pleased with it.

The change to the city’s election ordinance goes into affect June 1. It would first affect municipal elections in West Monroe next spring.

In early March, the city received a letter from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division saying the existing system in which West Monroe voters elected members to the Board of Aldermen violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Specifically, the Justice Department noted that roughly one-third of West Monroe’s residents were black while almost 29 percent of the registered voters in the city were black. However, no blacks had ever served on the Board of Aldermen.

The letter from Pamela S. Karlan, principal deputy assistant attorney general, also alleged that white voters in West Monroe cast ballots as a bloc to prevent a black candidate from being elected to the Board of Aldermen. She said “black residents in the city continue to bear the effects of discrimination in several areas, including education, employment and health, which hinder their ability to participate effectively in the political process.”

Caldwell pointed out that the single-member districts the city had already drawn were based on city’s official population as of the 2010 Census.

He said the district lines would vary a bit once the city receives population data stemming from the 2020 Census.

“They won’t change much but we’ll have to adjust them,” Caldwell said.

On another front, city finance director Scott Olvey presented the Board of Aldermen with a proposed $21.4-million general fund budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The proposed budget anticipates revenues in excess of $22.2 million. According to Olvey, the city’s fund balance would rise to roughly $7.5 million at the end of the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

Olvey also rolled out a proposed utility fund budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year that anticipates more than $5.5 million in revenues while expenditures would top out at $5.23 million.

On related front, the Board of Aldermen signed off on the city entering into an agreement with Waste Connections of Louisiana to take over garbage collection in West Monroe, effective July 1. The contract with Waste Connections would extend five years.

Mitchell said five city employees would be affected by the change.

She said the five displaced employees would be given opportunities go to work for Waste Connections since they know the garbage collection routes.

Mitchell said contracting with Waste Connections would save the city $200,000 annually.

According to Olvey, there would be no increase in cost to city residents in light of Waste Connections taking over garbage collection. He said, however, that Waste Connections could raise rates in five years if the city renewed its contract with the company.