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|Monroe elections in jeopardy|
A planned election for the Monroe City Council may have to wait, after city officials learned they have missed a critical deadline to redraw the city's five council districts.
The terms of Monroe's five-member City Council end in June 2012. That means the city would have to hold elections for those posts on March 24, 2012.
However, provisions in the city charter require that redistricting plans be submitted within one year following any Census and a minimum of six months prior to the next municipal election.
To date, the City Council has not approved a redistricting plan for the city council districts and is not expected to approve one before the end of November, less than the required six months prior to election day per the city charter.
City Council Chairman Jay Marx said he first learned Tuesday morning that Monroe may not be able to hold City Council elections in March.
"Immediately I called (city attorney Nancy Summersgill and we started looking at it and talking about it," said Marx. "Where at first it looked like there was an easy solution, there is not."
Summersgill serves as city attorney for the City of Monroe. It is Summersgill's job to advise the city on matters relating to the law.
Marx was quick to point out this was not the first time the city had dealt with a conflict between a Census count and a planned election for the City Council.
According to Marx, the situation arose in 1991 as well. However, Marx said no one associated with city government today was active in governing the city in 1991, so record of how the problem was addressed then will be hard to come by.
Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo said part of the problem this time around was that the city challenged the findings of the 2010 Census.
According to the preliminary findings of the 2010 Census, Monroe's population is 48,815.
"Once that was in, we immediately went about challenging those numbers," Mayo said.
The challenge was necessary because Monroe relies heavily on federal programs that are available to municipalities with populations greater than 50,000.
Challenging the Census took more than a month, Mayo said, and now the city may be left without the necessary time to approve new council districts for the March election.
Marx said city officials are unsure what happens next.
"That cannot be answered until we put everything together," said Marx.
There are a host of factors that will impact any solution to the city's elections dilemma.
Among the factors are requirements that the city submit its redistricting plan to the Louisiana Secretary of State, which must approve the districts before any elections can be held.
Also, the U.S. Department of Justice gets first pass over any approved city council districts to ensure no residents of the city are disenfranchised.
A Justice Department review can take up to 60 days.
Monroe public relations director Rod Washington said other municipalities have requested accelerated consideration in the past.
"It wouldn't be anything new to ask them to expedite our paperwork," Washington said.
Marx said he expected to have "a final answer" by Monday.
Until then, Marx said he would be working with Summersgill to wrangle all of the necessary information, from state law to opinions issued by the Louisiana Attorney General.
If the municipal elections are not held in March, state law dictates that the city must wait until the next general election.
"If we cannot have it in March, the first time we could hold it would be when there is another regular election, which is Nov. 6," Marx said.
The City Council terms are set to expire in June. According to Washington, state law allows for the possibility that the current City Council could continue serving until new City Council members are elected.
Louisiana Revised Statute 44:2 permits public officers will remain in office until a successor can be elected.
"Basically, their next term would be shortened," Washington said.