BEAUMONT - BY SCOTT LAWRENCE:
KFDM News has learned the Justice Department refused to pre-clear the Beaumont school district's 5-2 voting plan, approved by voters in May 2011, and the district plans to go forward with the May elections with three seats up for a vote while it re-draws the boundaries for its seven single-member district plan, according to information school district attorney Melody Chappell provided to KFDM News.
Chappell says the Justice Department sent a letter to her Friday explaining its ruling. She says Justice didn't look at the district's proposed map containing five single-member districts and two at-large seats. She says the Department didn't need to because she says a change would dilute minority voting strength.
Chappell says she and the district have been working with a demographer on re-drawing the boundaries for the seven single-member districts.
She believes that can be done in time to present to the Justice Department and allow the May elections to go forward with three seats up for re-election.
"I've never seen a case where they approved going from a single member district plan, seen as the best voting plan for protecting the voting rights of everyone, to an at-large plan," Chappell told KFDM News.
Board member Mike Neil told KFDM News he disagrees with the Justice Department ruling and is unhappy with it.
"I'm extremely disappointed," said Neil. "I don't believe the BISD attorney and the district adequately presented the plan to the Justice Department and explained why it doesn't dilute minority voting strength, because I believe they were against it all along."
Michael Getz, a Beaumont city councilman who helped organize the petitions that led to a vote in favor of the 5-2 plan, told KFDM News "when the board adopts the 7-0 plan it'll be ripe for a court challenge."
Getz said the ruling goes against state law, which allows for a referendum on such voting plans.