Dissatisfied two weeks ago with a pair of proposals to reform the city’s five voting districts, Statesboro city council members are expected to approve a new district map today. It would be the first step in completing the redistricting process mandated by population shifts revealed in the 2010 Census.
Council, Mayor Joe Brannen and staff will gather in city hall’s second floor council chambers for a public hearing at 5 p.m. to discuss the city’s most recent design to reapportion populations throughout its voting districts.
In a regularly scheduled meeting following the hearing at 6 p.m., council members will be asked to approve a first reading of the map, possibly allowing the new districts to be implemented for November’s general election.
The Department of Community Development’s third attempt at reconfiguring districts to balance populations — which is required by federal law to ensure citizens’ votes carry equal weight — is expected to be a successful one, according to members of council.
“Everyone seems to be on board,” said Councilman Will Britt. “Everyone seems pleased with it and thinks their constituents will be happy.”
“I think we will have a 5-0 vote,” he said. “I think the map is going to go through, and I think it is a good map.”
“I am more pleased with the new map than I was with the second map. I think we could have done better — some councilmen probably got a little more than others — but overall, I think it is about as fair as we can get with this council,” said Councilman Travis Chance. “This is the best map that the planning department has been able to come up with, and as of right now, I believe it is the one that will be sent to the United States Department of Justice.”
The most recent plan was developed after council — by a 4-1 count — tabled a vote in its previous meeting because of discontent regarding two other proposed maps.
One plan — the original design — was met with general support by Council and the public during two open forums, but was requested by some councilmen and citizens to undergo minor alterations. The result was a second map that skewed boundaries, was unveiled to councilmen just days before a vote was expected and never received public feedback; the second design also reflected only the requests of select councilmen, according to Councilmen Tommy Blitch and Chance, who claim their input was not represented.
“One of the things I had a problem with about the last map is that the 20 percent of Statesboro’s population I represent did not have a say in it,” said Chance, who called the second map “a farce.” “My contribution to the new map was to make it a point that Councilman Blitch and myself were represented and that our input — and the input from our citizens — was factored in as well.”
According to Martin Laws, city planner for Statesboro, the newest proposal is very similar to the planning department’s original plan.
“[The new proposal] is very similar to the first map,” Britt said. “We took the first map and adjusted it in a couple of different directions.”
Following council’s previous meeting, the city representatives worked with one another to reach an agreeable solution, he said.
“We all talked and re-did a couple of things. Everyone suggested ideas and we tried to address some of the concerns that had been brought up at meetings,” he said.
If councilmen vote to approve a first reading today, and a second in their first meeting of July, Statesboro’s new districts may be implemented in time for elections later this year – thought it is not a guarantee.
According to Mandi Cody, director of Community Development, an ideal timeline would have the city approving a second reading at today’s meeting in order to submit a final plan to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for pre-clearance prior to June 29.
Meeting the June deadline would ensure the city garner pre-clearance before the Aug. 29 qualifying date for elections — since the DOJ reserves a 60-day time frame in which to make decisions.
Since Council would likely vote to approve a second reading July 6, city officials will have to rely on the Department of Justice not use the entirety of the 60 days.
If the new district map is not approved prior to the qualifying date, Statesboro residents would vote using the city’s current district layout, she said.
Jeff Harrison can be reached at (912) 489-9454.