The altercation was never mentioned over the course of the two-hour meeting, as Coleman sat on one side of the table and Lewis on the other, in the fourth-floor conference room of City Hall as the committee took up the same issue that led to the assault.
The assault occurred last September when Coleman and Lewis argued over a map Lewis had proposed that created a federally required majority-black ward on the southern edge of town, away from both Coleman’s north-central Ward 5 and his home.
While the topic of the assault was never raised during Tuesday’s meeting, the problem of drawing a map with a ward that is 50 percent black was.
Audience member Robbie Huck of Marietta asked during the public comment part of the meeting why the minority-majority ward requirement couldn’t be challenged.
“Maybe it was justified at the point that it was created, but this is 2012,” Huck said. “Right now the minority-majority ward has a white person, a white man (Stuart Fleming) on the school board, and he just moved into the neighborhood … What is the justification to continue to comply with this?”
Federal law, said attorney Daniel White, sitting in for city attorney Doug Haynie.
“The concern obviously is that historically there was a tendency for people to create districts that diluted minority representation, and because of that, since the 1960s, there’s been this act that requires you not to do that, to protect those districts,” White said.
Yet Huck asked why the attorney general couldn’t be contacted to challenge that requirement.
“We’re attracting new people to live in the city. What better way than say that we’ve grown,” Huck said, noting that she intended to contact Attorney General Sam Olens about the matter this week.
Another member of the audience, Coleman’s mother, Juanita Carmichael, asked to speak, explaining to Huck why the act was created.
“Yes, something bad did happen,” Carmichael said. “We were not fairly represented. Hugh Grogan filed a lawsuit, and that’s how this is mandated that there is black representation.”
The late Hugh Grogan was the first African-American elected to serve on the City Council. Councilman Philip Goldstein, who is not on the redistricting committee but participated in the meeting anyway, said that in the mid-1970s Grogan sued the city, forcing it to comply with the Voting Rights Act and create a majority-minority ward.
The redistricting committee, which is chaired by Councilman Johnny Sinclair and made up of Coleman and Lewis, spent most of the meeting drawing the new boundaries of Ward 5, currently represented by Coleman.
Sinclair said he hoped to have a full map ready to recommend to the City Council by Sept. 1. The council must have a new map in place in time for the 2013 elections, White said.
There are still some hard decisions to be made in finalizing Ward 5, Sinclair said.
“For example, the people who live in (Manget at Historic Marietta) are expressing from what I can tell a pretty strong will to get out of the ward that they’re currently in (represented by Coleman), and the current city councilman does not want to give them up,” Sinclair said. “They want to be put into a single ward, and they want that ward to be Ward 1 (represented by Lewis), and they feel that they are a community that’s just in a process of growing together and the best way to solidify that process is to gain some political power, and what they’re saying makes sense to me.”
Another member of the audience, Cobb NAACP president Deane Bonner, said the committee didn’t need to spend all of its time on Ward 5.
“We’ve had what, all of these meetings based on Ward 5 and have not come up with anything yet,” Bonner said as she got up to leave early. “I’m not going to sit here all night. We need to not be territorial. We need to draw the maps that are going to be fair and equal to the citizens. In 2013 we need to look at how other wards can be looked at as a minority ward instead of only looking at Ward 5.”