Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Roanoke City Council gets read the Voting Rights Act

Moving three precincts as the result of a fire station sale and Reserve Avenue building demolition became a hour-long civil rights discussion at Monday’s 2:00 p.m. council meeting. The Jefferson #2 precinct will move from the school maintenance building to Crystal Spring Baptist Church, the Williamson Road #3 precinct will move to the Public Works Service Center on Courtland, NE, and the Melrose precinct formerly at fire station #5 will move to Saint Gerard Catholic Church.

Electoral Board Secretary Gordon Hancock stressed to council the difficulty the board had in complying with the stricter ADA (Americans with Disability Act) requirements. Hancock was questioned on the move and Voting Rights Act implications if any.

The Electoral Board had discussed a more expedient less expensive route that would relieve the city from the lengthy Justice Department approval process. They opened a door that should have remained shut according to Bishop Edward Mitchell President of the Roanoke SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference).

In a phone call with Bishop Mitchell he stated that the Roanoke SCLC was “totally against it.” Mitchell said he didn’t trust opening that door. He was concerned it would start chipping away at the Voting Rights Act. Perneller Chubb-Wilson President Emeritus of the Roanoke SCLC remembers fighting for the right to vote saying, “people don’t know what we went through.”

Councilman Sherman Lea asked, “why does this city have to take this approach?” He said he saw no other Virginia urban city in the list of localities that had “bailed out” bypassing Department of Justice scrutiny.

Councilman Bill Bestpitch called for a point of order in that the Voting Rights Act “bailout” was not on the agenda noting that the three precincts still had to go through the Justice Department and no action was being taken on the “bailout.”

City Attorney Bill Hackworth agreed saying that decision required a three-judge panel before release from DOJ scrutiny – and that takes time.

Lea took exception to Bestpitch’s point of order saying, “I have a right to ask Hancock.” Hancock assured Lea that the relocation of the three precincts would follow the current process that could take up to 60 days. He had just received ADA approval for one precinct last week.

Hackworth said that in past elections, relocation of precincts had not been formerly approved by the DOJ and though improbable, a denial of the move after the election could have been problematic.

Brenda Hale President of the NAACP along with her brother Dan Hale took the opportunity to speak on their opposition to the “bailout” from the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Brenda Hale listed statistics for localities in Virginia that have cleared the “bailout” process. These localities had two to five percent minority population said Hale. “No city has done that before … it would be a giant step backwards,” said Dan Hale. Roanoke has a 27% minority population according to Hale.

The vote was 6-1 with Lea the only dissenting vote.

Other Business and public hearings:

Closing a portion of Third Street for the Community School as requested by Educational Partners, LLC became a discussion on the merits and expense of a five-foot sidewalk. Chris Chittum, Planning Administrator explained that extending the sidewalk to the curb and requiring grates and wells for trees conformed to the downtown streetscape plan. The added cost was prohibitive according to spokesman Lucas Thornton. After much discussion on underground utility polls, sidewalk bike riding, trees and cost City Manager Chris Morrill suggested removing the requirement to allow the project to continue. Council agreed and voted unanimously to close the portion of Third Street. That left only a five-foot walkway requirement between Norfolk and Campbell streets.

The YMCA contract with Anthony Smith is still stalled waiting for historic tax credits so he can begin renovations. The Commonwealth Building contract is still waiting for approval of the lease to retain the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Both were extended to December 31. Mayor Bowers continued his disapproving “no” vote on the Commonwealth Building sale. The vote on the YMCA extension was unanimous.

Councilman Sherman Lea was enamored by a television program that exposed Chicago’s placement of cameras that monitored for criminal activity. Crime dropped significantly according to Chicago law enforcement. Baring privacy issues Lea wants to keep it in mind for a future project and consideration by the new police chief yet to be named.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Community, Politics, Roanoke City Politics

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