NORTH AUGUSTA - The two urban centers of Aiken County are a study in racial contrast.
While Aiken officials are squirming over the prospect of a lawsuit in the wake of last week's failed referendum aimed at protecting the city council's two minority-held seats, North Augusta is sailing along with no black representation on its city council and little pressure to do anything about it.
The NAACP has never demanded that North Augusta create districts because its black population, 18.7 percent of the city's 17,574 residents, is dispersed across the city.
Aiken's black residents are more concentrated, with most living on the city's north side, within the districts of the city's two black council members, Beverly Clyburn and Lessie Price. The NAACP wants those two seats to remain in minority hands, and it pushed the failed measure to create a fifth council district that would have increased the minority vote in Mrs. Clyburn's and Mrs. Price's districts.
The absence of similar pressure in North Augusta has resulted in a city council that not only lacks racial diversity but also features geographical concentration. Even though all seven city council members must run citywide election campaigns, all but one live on or west of Georgia Avenue, near downtown. Three council members live in the same neighborhood.
This concentration of political power means that outlying parts of North Augusta will be underrepresented as the city grows, said the Rev. Nathaniel Irvin Sr., a member of the North Augusta chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"Let's forget about black and white," he said. "Let's think about the geography."
A recent growth projection by Woolpert LLP, a consulting firm hired by the city, shows the population of North Augusta more than doubling in the next 12 years. A chunk of that growth will take place several miles north of downtown, where nearly 2,000 acres are targeted for residential development.
City council members say the city is small enough that it's easy to look out for all of North Augusta.
"We have no single council member who sits trying to protect their own little area," Councilwoman Carolyn Baggott said.
According to the Municipal Association of South Carolina, 199 cities or towns in South Carolina elect council members without districts, while 70 have varying forms of a district system.
Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895 or email@example.com.
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