• 64°

Judge to consider arguments to redraw Hattiesburg council wards

A federal judge is considering arguments that counting university students in Hattiesburg’s population dilutes minority participation on the City Council.

U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett wrapped up a three-day trial Wednesday in a challenge filed in 2006 over how the city draws its wards, from which council members are elected.

Starrett has given attorneys for both sides 30 days to submit written arguments.

A group of black residents filed the lawsuit to eliminate college students from the population mix. The plaintiffs want new wards drawn to reflect 2006 Census data that suggest blacks would comprise at least 55 percent of the total voting age population when transient students are excluded.

The plaintiffs said the city council unfairly included more than 3,000 transient University of Southern Mississippi students in the equation used to redraw Hattiesburg wards in 2002. They contend the counting of the students meant the black population was concentrated in two wards, while three others were majority white.

The city argued that blacks have held 40 percent of the council positions since the adoption of the mayor/council form of government.

The current council has three white members and two blacks.