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Gainesville ward map may be OK’d Tuesday

Proposal calls for cuts to Ward 4 from 10,474 to 6,621 people

POSTED: August 14, 2011 11:48 p.m.

After weeks of debate and discussion, the Gainesville City Council may approve its new ward map at Tuesday's council meeting.

The meeting will be the seventh public hearing on redistricting since the proposed map was presented to the council July 20.

Since then, the council, school board and community members have pored over the district lines in a series of official and community meetings. They have considered the effects on minority voters, the possibility of the Board of Education and City Council having separate maps and the chances of incumbents being drawn out of their wards.

In a surprise move at Thursday's work session, the school board presented a draft of a ward map it designed with the help of Linda Meggers, formerly of the Georgia General Assembly's Reapportionment Office.

"Right now we have a map on the table, and we have an incomplete map that was presented on Thursday," City Clerk Denise Jordan said.

Tuesday, the council is scheduled to amend the city charter and accept the new map so the redistricting process can move forward with public hearings and first readings in September.

Jordan said she is unsure how the new map will affect the redistricting process or the plan to amend the charter.

The map was given to attorney Drew Whalen, legal counsel for the redistricting process, late Wednesday night before the work session, Jordan added.

"It wasn't part of the planned conversation," she said.

If the council moves ahead with the map, it would be approved under a home rule ordinance. That way, the map wouldn't have to go through the state legislature.

The map would then be submitted for preclearance to the Department of Justice as part of the Voting Rights Act, which protects the voting strength of minorities. The act was amended in 2006 to include language minorities such as Hispanics.

If the amendment is signed, the City Council can move forward with its new map.

But since the amendment only addresses the council, school board members have several months to decide whether they want to use the same map or design their own, said Merrianne Dyer, Gainesville City Schools superintendent.

At the council's work session Thursday, school board member Delores Diaz expressed concern that the original map proposed to the City Council may not pass preclearance because it dilutes the minority population in Ward 4.

Ward 4 was the largest ward in the city and would be cut from 10,474 to 6,621 people. The Hispanic population would drop 8 percent under the original proposed map.

"I believe that will raise some red flags for the Justice Department," Diaz said at the work session.

The board members present their maps before the legislature in January.

"What it means right this minute is the city is much more pressed for time than we are," Dyer said.

Dyer added the goal of the school board and City Council was, and still is, to have the same map.

The school board decided to redraw the map with the help of Meggers to better reflect the needs of their constituents, including minority voters.

The school board's proposed map is "simply another option to consider. The City Council could consider it to be taken for approval with home rule ordinance, or they could decide to take their other map," Dyer said.

"(The school board) believes it might more easily pass through preclearance," she added.

 



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