No change in Augusta Commission, Richmond County school board voting districts

Lawmakers decided to stick with past maps of commission, school board seats

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 3:20 PM
Last updated 11:21 PM
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ATLANTA — A federal court could be drawing new district maps for the Augusta Commission and the Richmond County school board after the senators representing the city stopped all redistricting action in the General Assembly on Tuesday.

Incumbents could be paired in the same district or drawn into one with voters who don’t know them or support their politics. Observers say that when courts draw district maps, they usually look only at making the numbers equal in every district without regard to neighborhoods or politics.

“That’s a big risk for a lot of people,” said Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta.

Sens. Hardie Davis and Jesse Stone pulled the maps of the commission and school board districts from Senate consideration, leaving candidates to run in the existing districts drawn after the 2000 census unless a federal court challenge leads to revisions.

The senators agreed to halt legislative consideration of a pair of maps passed by the House that was on the agenda for the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee. The panel was to be the setting for amending the House version with one of the two drafts written by the senators, but they put on the brakes when members of the local House delegation rejected any amendments. The senators object to the House maps because they said too many members of the commission and school board oppose them.

Sitting side by side in Davis’ office, the senators from different parties used nearly identical phrases to explain their decision.

“I didn’t want to substitute my judgment for the whole community,” said Stone, R-Waynesboro.

Augusta Commission member Bill Lockett, who served on the 12-member ad hoc committee that unanimously approved the maps in November, said it was “extremely sad” that they have been tossed out.

“Politics entered into the decision-making process,” Lockett said. “People are paying attention to what we’re doing here, and we can’t even conduct ordinary business in a sensible, orderly manner.”

Commissioner Jerry Brigham, who also served on the committee and later reversed his position on the maps, said the decision was one “the Legislature needs to make.”

The Richmond County Board of Elections spent $4,872, including travel, for consultant Linda Meggers to help develop the five maps it considered, Elections Director Lynn Bailey said. The board also spent $3,448 for Augusta West-Huseby Reporting to record five committee meetings and four public hearings on the plans, Bailey said.

Most Richmond County school board members were unaware the senators had withdrawn the maps from consideration when they met for their monthly meeting Tuesday evening.

When informed by board attorney Pete Fletcher about the setback, most members said they were unhappy with the lack of communication by local legislators.

“We’re dealing with our schools, our students, our employees, and I’m sick of (legislators) making decisions without talking to any of us about that,” board President Alex Howard said.

Board members said they often do not get phone messages returned and are not consulted before a Senate vote.

“I think it’s wrong for them to go up there and make decisions based on not even talking to us,” board Vice President Venus Cain said. “I’d like to say I’m very disappointed in Sen. Davis.”

With just four working days left in the 2012 legislative session, there is little opportunity to act. Today is Greater Augusta Day at the Capitol, which will bring 40 area business and political leaders to Atlanta. Davis and Stone dismissed that as an opportunity to hammer out an agreement, however.

If the Legislature doesn’t pass new maps, the existing districts remain in effect for commission and school board candidates unless someone files a challenge in federal court. Then, the court would have to act on a short schedule, starting from scratch.

No matter who draws the maps, they must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice for clearance first to ensure minority voters won’t lose political muscle. The department has 90 days for its review. Also, absentee ballots for members of the military must be sent 45 days before the election, narrowing the window further.

One bill that is advancing in the General Assembly could shrink the timeline still more. Sims sponsored a bill that moves the election date for Augusta balloting to the July primary. It’s pending in the Senate, and she said Tuesday that she intends to keep it moving forward.

Observers say it’s common for a judge overseeing a redistricting case to postpone elections until the new maps are cleared in advance.

Davis and Stone expressed their own frustration that they were not able to find a consensus, and they refused to act without one.

“It’s important from a community standpoint that we not further divide or polarize the community,” Davis said.

Both senators denied that the decision to kill redistricting was a concession to persuade Davis to vote for a controversial charter-school amendment to the state constitution the day before. He broke with other Senate Democrats to provide Republicans with the supermajority they needed for one of their key legislative goals.

They deny, too, that the inability to draw a map is a sign the community can’t solve its own problems. Sims also rejected that notion.

“I don’t think we’re dysfunctional,” she said. “We don’t agree on everything, and sometimes we don’t agree on much, but that’s why they send us up here, to be independent.”

Staff writers Susan McCord and Tracey McManus contributed to this article.

If the Legisla-ture doesn’t pass new maps, existing districts stay in effect for commission and school board candidates unless someone files a challenge in federal court.

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Little Lamb
Little Lamb 03/20/12 - 03:27 pm
We were told earlier this

We were told earlier this year that the existing districts do not meet legal requirements to be of essentially equal population. In the past ten years population shifts have occurred such that the some districts are too big and some too little.

But this is Augusta, where the law is but a suggestion.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 03/20/12 - 03:36 pm
We paid good money for this

We paid good money for this consultant and we didn’t get much in return. Here’s an excerpt from the story back last September:

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 committee voted to aspire to just a 2 percent deviation.

Here is the link to the story.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 03/20/12 - 03:39 pm
Now we turn our attention to

Now we turn our attention to the Georgia Senate, where they need to decide whether to pass the House Bill making commission & mayoral races be held in July.

Riverman1 03/20/12 - 04:27 pm
Of course, it's all about

Of course, it's all about race, but keep in mind, the minority race in Richmond County is the whites. Try to figure out how to do that. Heh.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 03/20/12 - 04:32 pm
This development works to the

This development works to the advantage of Donnie Smith in his race for District 7 commissioner. Smith has been tireless in meeting and working with residents of Waverly, National Hills and Lake Olmstead neighborhoods to get the map amended to keep those neighborhoods in District 7 instead of being split out, as the new map did.

Smith can claim partial credit, and his vote in those neighborhoods will soar.

dichotomy 03/20/12 - 06:48 pm
I sure do hope a court gets

I sure do hope a court gets involved and rams something awful down our throats. I want the law enforced. I want every district exactly proportional to the census. Our race baiting, overpaid politicians, with the help of ANOTHER paid consultant, failed to do their jobs....AGAIN. I hope a judge chops this county up like a dime store puzzle.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 03/21/12 - 01:41 pm
You go girl! One bill that is

You go girl!

One bill that is advancing in the General Assembly could shrink the timeline still more. Representative Barbara Sims sponsored a bill that moves the election date for Augusta balloting to the July primary. It’s pending in the Senate, and she said Tuesday that she intends to keep it moving forward.

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