Forest Park plans public hearing on redistricting

The population of Forest Park dropped by almost 3,000, from the year 2000, to last year, according to U.S. Census figures, so city leaders must vote on new ward boundaries to comply with U.S. Department of Justice rules.

A public hearing will be held, Thursday, at 6 p.m., to give residents a chance to compare the new lines with the existing ones. According to the 2010 Census report, the population decreased from 21,447 to 18,468 in 10 years.

City Attorney Robert Mack said, Monday night, that the new map won't impact the November election. "The new map won't be used for the next election, there isn't enough time," said Mack. "You'll be setting this up for the election after that, and going forward."

The city council unanimously approved the ordinance to abide by the U.S. Department of Justice principles, and to amend the city charter to allow for redistricting. Mack said the new lines won't reflect gerrymandering, but a logical division of the city's population.

"It will be sensible," he said. "We tried to keep neighborhoods intact, and the rules do not allow you to divide a census block."

He also reassured councilmembers that they won't be competing with each other for the same ward. "All the members stay in their respective wards," said Mack.

Councilmembers serve staggered terms, so Linda Lord, Maudie McCord and Don Judson will be the last city officials to run for office under the old map. All three said, Monday night, they will seek re-election this year.

Mack said Ward 2, which has had no representation since the council voted, last month, to oust Karen-Brandee Williams, remains the city's majority-black district. He said under Justice Department rules, the city must have at least one district with “50 percent, plus one” in black population.

Mayor Pro Tempore Sparkle Adams wondered about the city's 400 empty houses. "We're in a foreclosure crisis," said Adams. "The city has about 400 empty houses. What happens when they become occupied?"

Mack said the redistricting will stand until the 2020 census.

City Manager John Parker said Ward 4, represented by Judson, was the only one to lose population. The council must vote on the new lines at two different meetings, expected to be in September. The new map will be sent to the Justice Department for approval.

In other council action:

• Mayor Corine Deyton urged the board members to contact their federal legislators by Sept. 13 to oppose a proposed amendment that would allow heavier and longer trucks on the nation's roadways. "We need to take a big stand on this, this body and the public," said Deyton. "We have enough accidents on the roads. We need to fight this."

Parker said the initiative will allow the weight of trucks carrying freight to increase from 80,000 pounds to 100,000, and would also extend the length of their trailers.

"How many lives can be taken?" said Deyton. "Can you imagine what size truck that is?"

Councilmembers agreed to write letters, and adopt a resolution against the change.

• Atlanta Gas Light representative, Jodie Huiet, updated the council on the ongoing pipeline replacement project. All aging and old gas lines in the state are being replaced as part of 1998's 15-year program to update infrastructure.

Huiet said by now, all residents who will be affected, have been notified. "We are in the survey process now, so if residents see people near their property they are not familiar with, just ask for identification, and they will gladly show it to you," she said.

• Forest Park Fire Chief Eddie Buckholts introduced four of six recruits hired in March, and presented them with their state and national Firefighter I Certifications. Buckholts said one of the six rookies was already certified, and one was injured before certification was finished. They were trained by Capt. John Baker. The rookies are: John Tuder, Sean Haggarty, Andrew Gelmin and Henry "Tad" Busby. They received a standing ovation from councilmembers and residents.

• Edie Yongue, with Keep Forest Park Beautiful, presented beautification awards to Red N Gold Florist and Forest Park Dwarf House. Lord said she will have information later in the year on an award to be given to the Home of the Month.

"We have some really pretty homes in Ward 5," she said, prompting the rest of the councilmembers to champion homes in their own districts.