Alert reader Joel Kennamer said state law supports 5-member City Council districts and most cities have 5 on the Council rather than 7. He asked how Guntersville came to have 7.
We posed the question to Guntersville City Clerk Betty Jones.
She said the 7-member Council in Guntersville goes back to the 1980s. It was part of the settlement of an issue involving the entire state, not just Guntersville.
“There was a case that went before the Supreme Court in 1986 called Thornburg vs. Gingles,” Jones said. “It was a North Carolina case.”
The case set the precedent for “majority minority” districts. The Lakeview area of Guntersville his historically been the city’s black community. But with citywide voting for the Council, there had never been a black Council member elected.
The case was actually styled Thornburg vs. Gingles et al. The “et al” meant everyone else in that same situation.
Because the black population was limited, the districts needed to be smaller to create the majority minority district. Thus the city went to 7 districts rather than 5. A consultant came in and drew out the district. It had to be submitted to the U.S. Justice Department for approval.
That was in 1986 and the city’s first black council member, Nellie Jo Franklin, was elected in 1988.
Thornburg vs. Gingles did not apply to Boaz, Arab or Albertville because at that time none of those cities had enough minorities to create a majority minority district.
District 1 is the city’s majority minority district. But city leaders feel it is probably no longer a true majority minority district. That’s because people, both blacks and whites, live in all parts of the city today.
“The entire State of Alabama was mandated to do this, not just us,” Jones said.