Supervisors in huff over expert lawyer

Supervisors in huff over expert lawyer

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Just how much the county’s five voting districts will change is uncertain after Madison County’s population grew by more than 12% during the last decade, officials said this week as consultants were hired, including the controversial hiring of an expert lawyer at $465 an hour.

The population went from 95,203 in the 2010 census to 106,871 in 2020, according to early U.S. Census Bureau numbers.

“We had a lot of growth in Madison County over the last 10 years,” said District 3 Supervisor Gerald Steen. “There will be some changes. There will be district line changes because of that growth.”

Steen said he had heard the growth could have been as much as 14% or 15%.

“I expect the lines to be changed due to the population growth we have because we grew around 14 to 15%,” Steen said. “We really don’t know until we start looking at the lines and seeing where the growth is and how much growth is in each area because growth may come in two or three different areas of the county or it may be all in one major area of the county. We do not know because we have not received any numbers yet.”

One thing is highly likely though — some Madison County residents will be voting in a new supervisor district in 2023. 

With the population growth exploding in the southern half of the county upwards into the Gluckstadt area, the less-populated areas encompassing District 4 and District 5 will likely have to be expanded more into southern Madison County in order to pick up the population. 

Madison County awarded a $24,000 contract to the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District to create the new voting district maps to reflect the latest census figures.

The county also hired attorney Tommie S. Cardin, a regulatory and government relations specialist with more than 23 years of experience with the Butler Snow law firm, to advise the county on redistricting at a rate of $465 per hour.

Steen said he believes hiring Cardin was the right thing to do, noting Cardin’s experience in redistricting.

“I think it is a decision that is good for Madison County to be able to have an attorney on staff that can understand the laws of redistricting to ensure that we as a board of supervisors have good guidance and direction when the time comes to make a decision on redistricting,” Steen said.

Cardin, who has served as lead counsel for the Mississippi Joint Legislative Committee on Reapportionment Congressional and State from 2001-05 and 2010-2013, will work with CMPDD in the process.

Heston Lollar, a communications and outreach coordinator for the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, said hiring an attorney with knowledge of redistricting on the front end of redistricting is a good idea.

Counties or municipalities could be open to legal challenges if a candidate is squeezed out because of the way the voting lines were drawn, Lollar said.

“That's why counties or cities are incentivized to do it well the first time because the legal fees for (a legal challenge) are exorbitant,” Lollar said.

Lollar said counties and municipalities have leeway in redrawing district lines based on the demographics from the census.

“They make the decisions,” Lollar said. “…It is ultimately the board of alderman or county supervisors to make a decision on how to move the lines.”

During the Madison County Board of Supervisors' Oct. 4 meeting, Steen made the motion to hire Cardin. Steen had brought the matter up during a previous meeting but the board tabled the matter for later discussion after a couple of supervisors questioned the need for an outside counsel.

After Madison County Administrator Shelton Vance brought up a redistricting proposal from CMPDD at the Oct. 4 meeting, Steen again brought up the matter of hiring Cardin.

“I would like to bring it back up to retain Butler Snow as a special counsel to represent the county and redistricting and all affected county election districts as a result of the 2020 Census and any related litigation thereto and to direct and supervise CMPDD in preparing Madison County maps and related materials,” Steen said, adding that would be in the form of a motion.

Board of Supervisors President and District 4 Supervisor Karl Banks and District 5 Supervisor Paul Griffin had previously questioned the need to spend money on an outside counsel when the county has Mike Espy as the board’s attorney.

“I don’t think it is necessary but if you want to make that motion I think it is a waste of taxpayer dollars myself,” Banks said before calling for a vote.

Griffin interjected.

“I’ve got no problem with Butler Snow law firm, but we don’t need to spend that money,” Griffin said. “Twenty years ago we did not hire outside lawyers. Ten years ago we did not hire an outside law firm over it. The lawyer that we already have on staff can handle it if there are any legal issues. … Our lawyer — it is his job, what we do is legal anyway, so why do we need another lawyer? I’m not willing to waste $40, $50, $60 thousand on another lawyer.”

The board voted 3-2 to hire Cardin with Banks and Griffin voting against the measure.





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