Despite top lawyer’s advice, Aldermen change ward map

In a unanimous vote Monday, the Board of Aldermen redrew the borders of two New Haven wards, bucking the legal recommendation of the city’s top lawyer in the process.

The redistricting came well after the city concluded the once-per-decade process of redrawing ward boundaries last year. Despite the advice of city Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden, the Board of Aldermen voted to move Jocelyn Square, a small city neighborhood, from Ward 9 to Ward 8, and to add a block near Hillhouse High School to Ward 21. The board justified the changes by citing issues with last year’s redistricting process, and it pointed to the opinion of New Haven attorney Martyn Philpot in defending the legality of the move.

“Redistricting is hard,” said Ward 9 Alderman Jessica Holmes, whose ward shrunk slightly as a result of the change. “I’ve never had any intention to have a hostile takeover of any other wards in the city, and so I was amenable to this change.”

Bolden told the board it could not redraw the borders of wards more than six months after the state’s creation of new districts last June.

“The City’s Office of the Corporation Counsel issues opinions based on a careful analysis of the relevant law and the applicable facts, and this situation is no different,” Bolden told the News.

Philpot, whose website states he has experience in personal injury, wrongful death, civil rights and criminal law, among other areas, declined to explain the legal reasoning for his recommendation to the board, citing attorney-client privilege. Holmes declined to explain the logic behind the decision to redistrict. She said she saw no problem in the Board of Aldermen seeking, and taking, advice from outside counsel over the city’s own lawyers.

“It’s not unusual for two attorneys to have two takes on a situation,” Holmes said.

She added that only in the past year has the board set aside funds for consulting with outside counsel, which she said is “about being able to get an additional opinion if [the board] feels that it is required.”

Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez, speaking to the New Haven Independent, said that if the board took Bolden’s opinion, it would never be able to redistrict. Perez could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The board has long haggled over which ward Jocelyn Square belongs in. After the board moved the small park and surrounding neighborhood to Ward 9 during last year’s redistricting, Ward 8 Alderman Michael Smart sought to reverse the change. Around the same time, Ward 21 Alderman Brenda Foskey-Cyrus proposed adding a single block, on which Foskey-Cyrus claims a “couple hundred” people live, to her ward from Ward 28.

Foskey-Cyrus did not return repeated requests for comment, but she told the New Haven Independent in January that she has a particular reason why she would like the ward included in her district. When pressed on the specifics, Foskey-Cyrus said, “I just need it.”

Both Smart and Foskey-Cyrus submitted their proposals in October, after which Bolden quickly told the board it could not go through with the changes. Philpot submitted his opinion to the board in December.

The once-a-decade ward redistricting began early last year, concluding in June 2012 when the Board of Aldermen voted to approve the final ward map.

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