Tempers, blood pressure spike over District 13

By BY RECARDO THOMAS STAFF REPORTER,

It took two tries at two separate meetings, but after a 3-2 vote on Monday a letter is finally being drafted from the Sunflower County Board of Supervisors asking the federal courts to revisit a submitted proposed plan to redraw the lines of Senate District 13 and look at other options that do not split Sunflower County.

Board President Glenn Donald and District 3 Supervisor Dennis Holmes voted no on Monday.

There was some initial confusion as to who the letter would be addressed to because District 2 Supervisor Riley Rice’s motion was to send it to Judge Carlton Reeves and apparently Reeves has already submitted the plan to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Rice had also made the original motion to send a letter to Judge Reeves at the previous session. The vote was taken at the May 6 meeting and the motion passed seemingly without a no vote, however The E-T was later informed by Chancery Clerk Gloria McIntosh that Holmes abstained from the vote and that Donald changed his vote to an abstention on the Tuesday following that session and the matter would be revisited on May 20.

At the onset of this Monday’s meeting, Donald publicly announced that he was rescinding his previous yes vote and changing it to an abstention.

His decision to alter that vote left the final decision at two yeses and two abstentions, since District 4 Supervisor Anthony Clark was not present at that session.

Board Attorney Johnny McWilliams explained on Monday that given there was not a majority affirmative vote the two abstentions could not be counted as yes votes.

A re-districting plan presented to Reeves that is now apparently in the hands of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans would separate Sunflower County, which is now entirely in District 13, into two senate districts that would move nearly 5,000 African-American votes to Senate District 22.

At the May 6 session, Charles Modley, District 13 candidate, expressed his displeasure over the Supervisors not submitting a letter to Reeves voicing their contempt over the proposed plan; so Rice, who has constituents affected by the move, made a motion for the board to submit a letter.

Rice asserted that it was his right to submit a letter. “And then I want the support of this board because we are moved out of District 13 and we wanted to remain in District 13,” he said.

On Monday, Donald told the members that he decided not to sign the board order and changed his vote after hearing the drafted content of the correspondence. He added that even though the change affects his constituents in Inverness, not one of them have voiced a concern against the re-districting change proposed by the state legislature.

“I had talked to Mr. Rice previously about that and I told him I would support him sending the letter, but I’m not for the whole board sending one.”

At Monday’s session Rice said he did get complaints from some of his constituents because they didn’t know about the district changing.

Rice expressed his disapproval that he and the citizens were not properly informed of the intention of the Legislature and federal judges to re-draw district lines. “If you’re going to do it, do it right. Advertise it and let us know what’s going on,” he said. Rice then added, “I’m against the way it was done.”

Even though Donald stated that no definite vote had been taken and that the judge’s decision would not be handed down until June 10, Rice adamantly stated, “The law has been passed.”

Rice also mentioned The Rev. Mark Buckner, a District 13 Senate candidate, and how Buckner had informed him of other possible options that did not involve splitting Sunflower County. Buckner would apparently be drawn out of District 13 if the proposed plan is put into effect and Rice apparently invited him to Monday’s meeting.

Before Buckner addressed the members, Donald shared that he had previously asked Buckner to present the alternate proposals that he had alluded to.

“What I ask is that you show us the two other ways, I’ve just been hearing the talk,” Donald said.

Donald questioned why the issue keeps coming up before the county supervisors and insisted with regard to the filed lawsuit that there was only one proposal presented to Reeves. He suggested that Buckner present the alternatives to the judge.

“So instead of coming up in Sunflower County, which we don’t get a vote on it, present the other two ways. If you don’t put but one way in front of the judge he’s only going to decide on one way,” Donald said.

Donald also suggested that Buckner present his concerns to Sen. Willie Simmons, whom he says is a member of the church Buckner leads.

“Go to him. Go to Hudson, the representative. Go to people that’s going to make the decision. We don’t make the decision,” said Donald.

In Buckner’s discourse, he first contested Donald’s statement that no proof of other options was available and referenced documents that he presented to the lawmakers as evidence, although he admitted, “They may not be a district map. (But) it’s showing that there were two other options that did not dismantle District 13. Now if your allegiance is to Sen. Willie Simmons and his daughter, I understand that,” Buckner said.

Donald expressed his disdain at Buckner’s accusation and told him he was out of line and called for the sheriff to remove him.

Rice, however, protested and said, “Let him speak, let the man speak.”

Buckner, Rice and Donald were all speaking simultaneously with Sheriff James Haywood calling for order over the mingled voices.

Buckner continued, “You can clearly see that the removal of my candidacy and it affected the members of District 13, it was not coincidental, it was intentional. Willie Simmons signed on that committee, he was not on the committee, I have the committee member’s names,” Buckner said.

He alluded to Simmons having a personal stake in the redrawing.

“If he didn’t have anybody in the race, why did he come to the board meeting if the district wasn’t involved. Yes, we are involved, we are to speak up for the Sunflower County citizens. There are some people who are disgruntled about this, I myself and there are some people who are in Sunflower County who have some objections to this thing.”

As the dialog continued, McWilliams then addressed Buckner and said, “The primary responsibility for the establishment of districts, whether they be for Representative or Senate, is with the Mississippi Legislature, not the Board of Supervisors of Sunflower County.”

McWilliams later told the board, “Ya’ll can do what you want, you can write a letter, but it will have no effect or power anymore than if you write one individually.”

Unrelenting, Buckner suggested that the county should be in an upheaval over the decision, conduct a protest and submit a letter prior to a decision being handed down.

He again suggested that the board should consider what he insists is “the underlining motive” for the change.

“If he (Simmons) did not have a vested interest in the race there would not (have) been a plan drawn that dismantle our district and place three boxes, which I’ve been voting in for the last 20 years, out of 13 into 22,” Buckner said.

McWilliams then asked Buckner if anyone had intervened with a lawsuit and if so, was he a party in such a suit and Buckner replied that he was not.

McWilliams then suggested that to be a better way to get his voice heard.

Buckner retorted, “In the political process my voice is to be heard. That’s what voters are. Their voice needs to be heard not by political puppets, but by representatives who will represent them and represent their interests, and if you have Sunflower County at heart and the dismantling of District 13 when there were two viable options that did not touch district 13, then you’re not for Sunflower County you’re for your own interests.”

McWilliams then conveyed to Buckner that his statement offended him.

And Donald insisted, “You need to stop coming up here calling people political puppets and all that kind of stuff.”

Buckner responded, “The rhetoric is there, It's not degrading language. It's language that suggests what's going on and the people of Sunflower County need to know what their vote…”

Donald interrupted, “That's your opinion.”

Buckner rebutted, “I told you I brought an informed opinion.”

After yet another exchange between Buckner and Donald, Donald stated that this matter would not be addressed at any future board meetings. And in response to a question Buckner raised earlier about why Simmons came to address the board, Donald told him that the Senator often comes to share information.

However, Buckner continued to insist that Simmons' motive for his last visit was tainted.

Rice then attempted to interject, but Donald said enough had been said and called for Rice to make his motion.

Rice said, “You don’t want me to speak. I have something to say. The only thing I wanted from this board was to write a letter of support, we didn't have to argue about it that’s the only way you have to object is through a protest.”

He added that he understood that the board has no control over redrawing the district, however he just wanted to send a letter whether individually or as a group. He also advocated for the citizens’ right to speak.

He initially said he wasn't going to introduce a new motion, but let his motion from the previous meeting stand.

After more dialogue that resulted in some elevated voice levels, Rice then changed his mind and said that he would like to make a new motion.

“You said you weren’t going to make none. Hades. What you gone do? You just said you not going to make one,” said Donald.

Rice made a motion to write a letter to Reeves opposing the change to District 13, Donald questioned the wording of Rice’s motion citing that it needed to be more precise. Dickerson seconded it and it passed 3-2. McWilliams was then asked to read back how the order would be written for clarity.

Base on McWilliams response, Donald said, “The motion carried and a letter will be written to Judge Reeves.” Holmes then added, “Let’s take a break, I need to go get some blood pressure medicine, this is ridiculous.”

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Breaking News

The redrawn lines for Districts 13 and 22 will be in effect for tomorrow’s primary elections.