HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - John Meredith, a political strategist, said in an opinion piece online this week that he is ready for Huntsville to address its westward expansion in a big way. He wants to see the city add a new city council and corresponding school board district to represent the western, Limestone County side.
That district currently falls under District 5 and is represented by Will Culver.
Meredith said he feels like that part of Huntsville needs its own council member.
"There are very distinct and unique issues that affect westside residents that don't affect the district five north side residents," he told WHNT News 19. "It's really difficult for one person, one council member, to represent such distinct differences within their own district."
He brought up concerns about utilities, fire and police coverage, and retail options, and said he would like to see Huntsville reevaluate its districting. He is aware a U.S. Census is coming up, and he believes that will prove it is time to add a new district.
"What I'd like to see is frankly, just better representation for citizens that live in Huntsville," he said. "As everyone knows, we are a larger municipality than, say, Madison. And Madison has more members on the city council than Huntsville, which means each council person represents fewer people which means that the individual has a larger amount of power, or has more say, in what happens in his municipal government. And I think that Huntsville needs that.
Culver agrees that District 5 is large, but he isn't sure it's time to split it or redraw the lines.
"As it stands right now, probably not," he said. "In the future, there could be some possibilities."
He said he believes he provides good representation with the district as it is, and most of his town hall meetings have been on the west side.
"I think the representation is great. Obviously, I'm going to say that because I'm the representative of that area," he said. "Their voices do matter."
He also pointed out a potential flaw with a six-person council configuration: "We can't do a six-member council," he pointed out, "because there has to be an odd number of council representatives because the mayor in our city government design is not a voting member."
Meredith said all he wants to do is open the discussion with hopes it will gain traction.
"I don't have any plans yet to move this forward, but I want to start laying the groundwork for it happening," he said. "The natural time for it to happen would be after the census comes out." Meredith, who ran for city council against Culver and did not succeed in unseating Culver said he does not want his comments to be perceived as a criticism against the current council member.
We wanted to find out about the prospect of changing the council configuration in Huntsville.
A City of Huntsville spokesperson sent us this statement:
“There is no effort under way, nor would it be appropriate to have a districting effort this close to the next census. Any proposal to re-evaluate the City’s five districts would not likely occur until after the next census and would have to comply with state law for class 3 municipalities.”
Lawmakers tell us that typically, need to petition the Legislature in order to be able to add seats on their councils since the Legislature sets the parameters for local governments. But Rep. Rex Reynolds, who serves in the Alabama House of Representatives, said Huntsville, as a Class 3 Municipality, functions under a 1988 bill that has already given the council the authority to create more seats as long as the council and board of education agree on it by passing matching resolutions. He reiterated that this information was a quick and preliminary legal review.
Districts, by law, must represent equal populations of a community and therefore must be okayed by the U.S. Department of Justice, officials said. They added that after the Census, the U.S. Census Bureau could give the city some recommendations if something needs to change.
Meredith said he would like to see what those numbers show.