A third proposal to reconfigure the city’s voting districts proved the charm Tuesday when Statesboro City Council accepted the planning department’s most recent attempt to reapportion populations.
Council unanimously agreed to pass a first reading of the newest plan during a regularly scheduled meeting in city hall’s council chambers.
Statesboro’s Department of Community Development has been working to formulate new districts since April, when 2010 Census figures revealed major growth in the southern portion of the city — leaving district populations skewed and necessitating alterations to balance residents across the five districts.
Tuesday’s vote of support for the new proposal cleared the first hurdle in the redistricting process, allowing for a second, final reading to be held during council’s next meeting, and submission of the plan for approval by the Department of Justice shortly thereafter.
“I am very pleased that Council approved this map that they all seem to be happy with,” said Mandi Cody, Director of Community Development, who will begin preparing a pre-clearance package to send to the United States Department of Justice upon the passing of a second reading next month.
Council approved the final version of proposed districts after rejecting two other maps in its last meeting. Differences of opinions among councilmen about how to best reform the voting blocks, led to a 5-1 vote to table the issue until Tuesday.
Following the June 7 decision to postpone a vote, members of council worked together, and with planning personnel, to formulate the new map.
“I am happier with this map than I was with the last proposal,” said Councilman Tommy Blitch. “We worked together and made compromises to find something that everyone is generally happy with.”
“I have no complaints,” said Councilman Gary Lewis. “I think it is a fair map, and I am glad we are getting it out of the way.”
With a new district map agreed upon, Council is expected to finalize approval with a second reading in its first scheduled meeting next month — a few weeks later than a deadline the planning department was hoping to meet.
For the new districts to be implemented in Statesboro’s general election this November, the finalized map must garner approval by the Department of Justice (DOJ) prior to an August 29 qualifying date for elections, said Cody.
Because the Justice Department reserves a 60-day timeframe in which to render decisions, a pre-clearance package was hoped to be sent out before June 29.
Now, city officials have to wait to see if the Department of Justice will grant approval earlier than is expected.
“We will request that the DOJ do an expedited review, but I doubt that they will,” said Cody. “I certainly would not bank on it. It is my understanding that they are swamped with these requests; but we will certainly do everything we can to put our request package together and submit it as soon as possible.”
“We are at the mercy of the Justice Department,” said City Manager Frank Parker.
The city cannot call a special meeting to issue final approval of the map early, because, since the new districts require a change in the city’s charter, each reading must occur in a regularly scheduled council meeting, he said.
Because the June deadline will pass with the city having not submitted a plan to the Justice Department, Statesboro’s new districts will likely not affect November’s election.
“I do not expect the approval by DOJ to be given before the qualifying date,” said Cody. “I expect, at this point, that we will have our election using the current districts.”
Once submitted, Cody does expect the new map to be approved and deemed in compliance with federal laws regarding voter rights, she said.
Council will vote on a second reading to accept the new map July 6, when it next meets for a regular session.
Jeff Harrison can be reached at 912-489-9454.