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Hall commission approves new districts
Maps not presented to public before vote
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Hall County commissioners continue negotiations about county redistricting during their Thursday meeting. - photo by AARON HALE

Hall County residents were asked to take the fairness of new district maps on faith Thursday.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a new map that divides commissioner boundary lines — before residents got to see the final map being considered.

The final version was not publicly released until after the vote took place — leaving those who came to speak on the issue with little to say.

"I want to comment," Hall resident Emory Turner said, "but I don't know what to comment on."

Turner and a handful of residents of the county's 4th District, which historically has had the highest black population, came to Thursday's commission meeting. They were concerned their district would be diluted with redistricting, thus disenfranchising black voters.

These residents arrived at the meeting wearing badges reading "#13," in support of the 13th proposal for districts maps. Turner said that option preserved the highest concentration of black voters.

Before the commission took its vote, District 4 Commissioner Ashley Bell, the only black Hall commissioner, assured residents that black voter influence would remain intact.

To ease residents' concerns, Chairman Tom Oliver said a "final vote" from commissioners would be taken on the map in January to give county officials a chance to present the new boundaries.

The map approved Thursday, however, will be presented to the U.S. Justice Department and state legislators before commissioners meet again in 2012.

The approval came at what is the last meeting of the year. Even then, commissioners were still hammering out solutions before coming to a unanimous decision.

"There are a number of factors in play when a redistricting map is devised," County Administrator Randy Knighton said.

Those include dividing population evenly, preserving regional and racial character and accounting for future growth.

Those concerns resulted in new maps being proposed as late as Wednesday night, county officials said.

Other than racial demographics, the big concern among commissioners was how to offset future growth of South Hall's District 1.

District 1 Commissioner Craig Lutz insisted his boundaries become smaller because future population growth in Hall is largely anticipated to occur in the south.

When Bell motioned for a version of redistricting that Lutz said didn't go far enough in reducing the size of District 1, he protested.

"People in South Hall County are going to be underrepresented again, as they were in the last 10 years," Lutz said.

In the end, Commissioner Scott Gibbs, who represents District 3 in the northeast part of the county, accepted a larger district in terms of land area. District 3 will cover half the county in the new map.

Gibbs shrugged questions about whether commissioners took too long to decide on the map and didn't give voters enough opportunity to weigh in.

Although commissioners will vote again in January on the maps, it will largely be a symbolic gesture.

"We finally got it worked out," Gibbs said, emphasizing the importance of the unanimous commission vote. "And I think once residents get to look at the maps, they'll be happy."

 

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