Augusta-Richmond County officials took their first steps toward redrawing commission and school board lines Tuesday, and their work is cut out for them.
Census data from 2010 show most of the Augusta Commission and Richmond County school board districts are off from their ideal population size of 25,069. Furthest under is District 1, currently represented by school board member Marion Barnes and Commissioner Matt Aitken, which is 4,165 shy of its ideal population. Furthest over its ideal size is District 3, now represented by Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles and school board President Alex Howard.
The population disparity means a 12-member committee must redraw district lines to more evenly distribute people among them in a manner that does not dilute minority voting strength.
The committee will be headed by District 4 Augusta Commissioner Alvin Mason, who will serve as chairman, and District 6 Richmond County school board member Jack Padgett as vice chairman.
Tuesday’s meeting to elect the ad hoc committee officers got off to a rambling start, as members disagreed over who to elect as officers.
District 7 school board member Frank Dolan offered a substitute motion to Sen. Hardie Davis’ nominations of Mason and Padgett, seeking instead to elect Barnes as chairman and District 7 Commissioner Jerry Brigham as vice chairman.
Barnes declined the nomination, and Dolan nominated Rep. Barbara Sims instead. Dolan’s motion failed, while the motion to elect Mason and Padgett passed 7-5. The names of who voted for whom were not recorded.
Mason, known to grill city department heads during commission meetings and a vocal opponent of the city’s ongoing reorganization plan, is a good fit to head the committee, District 5 Commissioner Bill Lockett said.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a problem,” Lockett said. “You’ve got a level playing field here.”
Super District 10 Commissioner Grady Smith, who occasionally spars with Mason, said the former mayor pro tem “ran a good meeting.”
The committee includes four members from the school board, four from the commission and four from Augusta’s legislative delegation.
To help the committee redraw the lines, the group agreed to the Richmond County Board of Elections’ hire of Linda Meggers, a consultant who worked for Georgia’s reapportionment office for decades before retiring. The elections office will pay Meggers’ rate of $75 an hour, plus travel expenses.
In drawing the new maps, Davis proposed allowing up to a 5 percent deviation from the ideal size. However, the committed voted to aspire to just a 2 percent deviation.
Meggers said she would be able to generate sample district maps using the new criteria and present them to the committee for review.
Davis' criteria also state that “efforts should be made to avoid the unnecessary pairing of incumbents.”
Padgett said his District 6 was a “swing district.” Also represented by Commissioner Joe Jackson, it became majority black over the last decade. Padgett said he saw an easy fix, however, in adding to it the approximately 1,900 residents that neighboring District 8 is now over the ideal.
A longtime Augusta politico who’d already begun “crunching the numbers” himself, Padgett said as Meggers was generating her maps, he’d be drawing his own alternatives.