Public hearing held for Dougherty County redistricting
A committee of three County Commissioners and three School Board members have started working to equalize population in the Dougherty County districts, after 2010 Census numbers were reviewed. According to their proposed lines, some wards lost population and some gained population.
"They have to be pretty close to equal. They can vary a little bit, plus or minus five percent, from the new average district size. If they're more than that, then we have to adjust this," says Linda Meggers, the committee's redistricting consultant.
In order to readjust the current district lines, the committee had to meet the legal requirements set by One Person One Vote and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
"We cannot retrogress," Meggers says. "Whatever plan is adopted has to maintain the minority strength as it was in the previous ones."
She says five districts that have a strong minority population will stay equally as strong with the new lines.
One citizen at Monday's first public hearing about Dougherty County redistricting says the new lines will "disenfranchise local black citizens."
"There are only three black persons that are elected while it appears to be an opportunity for a fourth. All you have to do is look at the last 30 years it hasn't happened. That's because of the way the lines are drawn," says citizen William Wright, who says he is working on redistricting concerns with professionals at the West Virginia School of Law and the American Civil Liberties Union.
His solution: Eliminate at-large and chairman positions and create a seventh, ninth or even eleventh district in Dougherty County.
"If you have more people out there that are running, you have a much greater chance of getting people who are sensitive to the needs and issues that the people have. That's not the present case," says Wright.
Another citizen says she is concerned with her district that includes Albany State University: She says she is worried issues important to her district will not be voted on by college students and those students from other states attending the college.
Megger says the committee will consider the opinions of the citizens who attend the public hearings.
"They will listen to all that and then take it back to a committee meeting the following week to see if they need to adjust the plan to take into consideration these public comments," says Meggers.
Two more public hearings will be held at noon and 6 p.m. on Thursday. The committee will then meet about the district lines and take the finalized plans to the DCSS Board and Dougherty County Board of Commissioners to adopt the new lines. The plans will then go to state legislature in mid-August for special session and then submit them to the Justice Department to clear the new districts for the 2012 election cycle.