An organization of neighborhood residents presented city council with a proposed redistribution plan for the council’s seven neighborhoods for committee consideration.
Robert Davis, president of the Community Academy, spoke about his organization’s version of possible council neighborhood lines during a council public hearing Monday on the redistribution.
The proposed map is drawn to keep the entire Ward 1 of Councilor Andre Knight and part of Ward 2 of Councilor Reuben Blackwell and part of Ward 3 of Councilor Richard Joyner on the Edgecombe County side of Rocky Mount.
Davis said the Community Academy is part of a redistribution coalition that includes the Rocky Mount Racial Justice Group, the Rocky Mount Black Action Committee, Black Workers for Justice, the Rocky Mount Chapter of the NAACP and Democracy North Carolina.
Knight is the leader of the local NAACP.
Additionally, Davis said the Southern Coalition for Social Justice provided demographic and legal assistance. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is based in Durham and provides legal advice and representation to economically disadvantaged communities of color who engage in social change efforts.
Davis told city council that the community’s proposed map promotes inclusion, racial justice and community ownership.
Davis was one of 13 residents or activists who spoke at the public hearing on Monday.
City council hired law firm Poyner Spruill to do the legal work in the redistribution and subsequently received two proposed maps from demographer Bill Gilkeson, who is part of the redistribution team.
One proposed card is called Alternative A and the other offered card is called Alternative B.
On Monday, the council also heard from Gilkeson via pre-recorded video about a proposed card called Alternative C.
City Councilor Chris Miller was quick to voice his objection to Alternative C because this proposed map would divide the Northgreen area, which is in his Ward 7, into two wards.
Alternative A offers some pretty noticeable changes, mostly making Knight’s Ward 1 encompass the Lake Belmont region in the northern part of town.
During Monday’s public hearing, Ward 5 Councilor Lige Daughtridge asked Davis about the concerns about Alternative A and Alternative B.
Davis said that looking at the data regarding Alternative A, one can see that in redesigned Ward 1, the black population would decrease while the white population would increase.
During Monday’s public hearing, Community Academy member Susan Perry Cole expressed support for the community-generated map.
Cole was quick to quote the story, claiming that for about 70 years or most of the previous century, black people campaigned unsuccessfully for election to city council.
And Cole noted that the only exception was Reverend George Dudley, who served on the board for a decade starting in 1972.
“Recognizing that, historically, the Rocky Mount municipal electoral system was designed to exclude certain populations, namely low-income communities and / or black communities,” she said, “it is important because this awareness helps us understand the need for intentional efforts to break the legacy of barriers to participation that may still exist today. “
And Cole said, “Otherwise, ignoring our city’s history of exclusion could allow marginalized groups or certain groups of city residents to continue to perform today. In this regard, it is also important that we recognize that Rocky Mount is still today a city that is racially and economically divided.
She also said that for the most part, the impoverished residents of Rocky Mount Black were disproportionately concentrated in a number of distressed and underfunded urban neighborhoods – and she noted that she lived in one of those neighborhoods. for 35 years.
She also said she was taking note of the current board members who represent Rocky Mount’s poorest and most disinvested neighborhoods and who this year have led efforts to develop and review a pending strategic plan for affordable housing.
“Today we, the residents, stand up to express our support for a clear vision of a redesigned neighborhood map in Rocky Mount that will protect our City Council leaders who strive to meet the interests and concerns of our neighborhood. most urgent, ”she said. “In addition, as residents of the city, we believe that the Belmont district does not correspond correctly to district 1 because it does not share the same socio-economic characteristics of the rest of the district and would dilute the vote of other communities.”
In Monday’s public hearing, Dr Kim E. Koo, a member of the Rocky Mount Racial Justice Group and the Community Academy, said historically underserved neighborhoods have very different concerns than wealthier neighborhoods.
Poorer people see basic needs like jobs, housing, food, health care and an appropriate education for their children as the way forward, while wealthier neighborhoods are said to be more concerned with having a luxury. refined, Koo said.
And Koo said that when you mix and mix the poorer neighborhoods with the richer neighborhoods in electoral districts, the richer people will use their money and influence to vote for their own sake and stack the election. in their favor.
“How is justice done for the poorest sections? Asked Koo, who rejects Alternative A and Alternative B and supports the community-generated map.
“Please show me a map where you can get a fairer and better representation of all segments of this city,” she said. “Show me a map where the city wants more equitable development for all segments so that less developed neighborhoods aren’t overwhelmed by elections by richer communities. Show me a map I don’t have. impression of being manipulated.
At Monday’s public hearing, Sharon Evans, who lives in the Hillsdale community in Ward 1, said she believes city council has done exceptionally well with what it has received and has done more to over the past 10 years than 30 years ago. .
“So now you want to affect the people who actually did the job – wards 1 and 2,” Evans said, disagreeing with alternatives A and B and his support for the community-generated map.
Evans also appeared to refer to the redistribution in the context of events in or related to Rocky Mount that resulted in bad publicity for the municipality.
Evans mentioned that city manager Rochelle Small-Toney was publicly attacked and state auditor Beth Wood released a report on blunders and preferential treatment allegedly taking place in government. municipal.
Evans also referred to the pending state Senate Bill 473. Supporters said the bill would make it clear that a local North Carolina elected official cannot in the future receive financial or personal gain from the government he or she serves. The statewide head of the NAACP called the bill racist legislation.
“And now we’re talking about redistribution,” Evans said. “Why?”
Evans said she wanted to know why it was even necessary if Rocky Mount is doing well with the Seven Quarters as they are described right now.
The municipality must redraw the boundaries of council wards to ensure equal representation in response to data from the 2020 U.S. Census, which shows Rocky Mount lost 3,136 people from 2010 to 2020, reducing the city’s population to 54,341. .
Blackwell Ward 2 was particularly hard hit, with a loss of 1,101 people in 10 years. Knight’s Ward 1 has lost 742 people in 10 years.
And the municipal code requires that there be seven single-member council quarters, with council members to be elected in stages every four years.