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Harris v. City of Texarkana

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

January 9, 2015

LANEY HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF TEXARKANA, ARKANSAS; N. WAYNE SMITH; N. WAYNE SMITH (MAYOR); LONDELL WILLIAMS; CHAD DOWD; JAMES MIKE JONES; SUE JOHNSON; CLINTON S. THOMAS; RICHARD V. HALL JR.; and ELIZABETH J. HICKS, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SUSAN O. HICKEY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Laney Harris brings this action against Defendants the City of Texarkana; N. Wayne Smith; Londell Williams; Chad Dowd; Mike Jones; Sue Johnson; Clinton S. Thomas; Richard V. Hall, Jr.; and Elizabeth J. Hicks.[1] This suit arises from the drawing of ward boundary lines in the city of Texarkana, Arkansas, following the 2010 census. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that boundary lines drawn for Wards 2 and 3 violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 52 U.S.C. § 10301. Plaintiff alleges that the lines as drawn dilute the minority voting power of African-American residents within Wards 2 and 3. Plaintiff also claims that alleged irregularities in drawing the boundary lines violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiff is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.

This matter was tried to the Court without a jury on December 2 and 3, 2014. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343. Venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391. The Court now renders its findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

FINDINGS OF FACT

1. The City of Texarkana, Arkansas, is operated under the city-management form of government. The City of Texarkana consists of six wards, each of which is represented by a single member on the City Board of Directors. Each member is popularly elected from the ward in which he or she serves for a four-year term. The Mayor is elected from the City at-large for a four-year term.

2. The electoral history of Wards 2 and 3 is relevant in this case. Plaintiff Laney Harris is an African-American currently serving as a member of the Texarkana City Board of Directors for Ward 2. Plaintiff was first elected in 1996. Prior to Plaintiff being elected, an African-American held the Ward 2 director position. Plaintiff held his seat until 2004 when he was defeated by an African-American opponent. Plaintiff reclaimed his seat in 2008 and ran unopposed in 2012.

From 1978 to 2014, Defendant Londell Williams, an African-American, held the director position in Ward 3. Mr. Williams was recently defeated by a Caucasian opponent in the November 2014 election.

3. Following the decennial census of 2010, the population of Texarkana, Arkansas, was determined to be 29, 938. The total African-American population was determined to be 9, 948- 33% of the total city population.[2]

4. Based on the population shifts reflected in the census, it was clear that ward boundary lines would have to be redrawn. The Board of Directors determined that a target population for each ward should be arrived at by dividing the total population by six and allowing a variance of plus or minus 5%. Using these criteria, a target population for each of the six wards was 4, 989 with a variance of 249.

5. If there had been no redistricting after the 2010 census, the population in Ward 2 would have been below the 5% variance by 51 people, and the population in Ward 3 would have been below the 5% variance by 376 people. The voting age population in Ward 2 would have been 50.83% African-American, and the voting age population in Ward 3 would have been 47.19% Africa-American. (Defendants' Exh. 3).[3]

6. The Election Commission and Board of Directors agreed to utilize the services of Texarkana Water Utilities ("TWU") for Geographic Information System ("GIS") mapping and census data accumulation. With the assistance of TWU, every director was given the opportunity to draw a proposed ward map. The directors were advised to follow two guidelines when preparing their maps: (1) stay within the 5% variance and (2) draw two "majority-minority" wards (i.e., wards with a total population greater than 50% African-American).

7. Many directors worked with TWU on proposed maps. Eleven maps were prepared at the direction of Plaintiff. (Defendants' Exhs. 4-5, 8-14, 16-17). On November 7, 2011, the Board of Directors held a meeting where the directors were given the opportunity to formally submit their proposed maps. Four maps were discussed at the meeting: (1) a map prepared by Director Mike Jones; (2) a map prepared by Director Londell Williams;[4] (3) a map prepared by Plaintiff Laney Harris; and (4) a map prepared by TWU.[5] At the conclusion of the meeting, the Board of Directors voted 5-2 in favor of the Mike Jones map. Plaintiff and Director Ruth Davis accounted for the two votes against the Mike Jones map.[6]

8. On November 15, 2011, the Board of Directors submitted the Mike Jones map to the Election Commission for approval. Despite his dissatisfaction with the Mike Jones map, Plaintiff did not submit a different map to the Election Commission for approval. After reviewing the Mike Jones map, the Election Commission was satisfied with the new lines and the map was adopted.

9. At the November 15 Election Commission meeting, Plaintiff raised concerns about the Board of Directors' involvement in drawing ward boundary lines. Plaintiff pointed out that, pursuant to Ark. Code. Ann. § 14-61-109, it was the Election Commission's responsibility to redraw ward lines, not the Board of Directors'.[7] After reviewing the statute for what appears to have been the first time, the Election Commission determined that the process they followed- allowing the Board of Directors to submit a proposed map for final approval by the Election Commission-was permissible under the statute. Nonetheless, now that the Election Commission was equipped with a better understanding of their role and responsibility in the line-drawing process, they opted to take a second look at the proposed Mike Jones map and re-vote. The Election Commission held this second vote on November 17, 2011, and after further consideration, the Mike Jones map was once again adopted. (Defendants' Exhs. 1-2).

10. The Mike Jones map is within the 5% total population variance for all wards. The voting age population for Ward 2 is 48.78% African-American, 4.34% other, and 46.88% Caucasian. The voting age population for Ward 3 is 49.44% African-American, 3.16% other, and 47.40% Caucasian. (Defendants' Exh. 7).[8]

11. At trial, Plaintiff submitted a map for the Court's review and proposed it as an alternative to the Mike Jones map. (Defendants' Exh. 12). Under Plaintiff's proposal, the population for Ward 2 would be within the 5% total population variance. The Ward 2 voting age population would be 50.00% African-American, 3.88% other, and 46.12% Caucasian. The total population for Ward 3 would be below the 5% variance by 20 ...


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