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Feedback sought on plans for School Board election districts

 

MARTHA K. SEAGLE, STAFF WRITER

 

Citizens can express their input on the three proposals for Lincoln County School Board redistricting Wednesday at the district’s offices on North Generals Boulevard in Lincolnton.

“I hope we have a good turnout from all areas of the county,” Ed Hatley, chairman of the board, told the Times-News. “We really want their input.”

As reported last week in the Times-News, the board has narrowed the field of 15 options down to three for further consideration. These options are known as Plan 13, 14 and 15.

Under recently passed legislation sponsored by former N.C. House Rep. Johnathan Rhyne,

the board is to be comprised of seven members, five of whom must live in the districts they represent and two who are at large members.

The goal of the new law was twofold:

ensure equitable representation for areas of the county based population and

allow opportunity for an at large candidate to run during each election.

To achieve equitable districts, the law further mandates that each district be within 5 percent of the “ideal population,” which is defined as one-fifth of the total population of the county.

Board members have been discussing redistricting options since spring, with input from County Planner Andrew Bryant and board attorney David Black.

Board members Tommy Houser, Kelly Childers, Hatley and George Dellinger are up for re-election in 2012. Members Clayton Mullis, Candy Burgin and Bob Silver will be up for re-election in 2014.

If Plan 13 is adopted, Hatley – who lives inside the proposed District 3 of this plan — would be constrained to run as an at large candidate in the 2012 election. That is because Burgin also lives in District 3 and her term does not expire until 2014.

Since Childers currently holds the only at large seat, he and Hatley could face a run-off if both choose to seek re-election.

Plan 14 places only Hatley in District 3 and puts Mullis and Burgin both in District 2 by an hourglass-shaped district that touches near the heart of the city of Lincolnton. If this plan is chosen, either Mullis or Burgin would be forced to run as an at-large candidate in 2014.

Plan 15 also puts Hatley alone in District 3 and Mullis and Burgin both in District 2. In this plan, District 2 is made up of non-contiguous precincts, something that the UNC School of Government election law expert Michael Crowell cautioned against in an e-mail to Black.

In a follow-up interview with the Times-News, Crowell said the public generally expects all districts to be contiguous territory.  “I don’t know of any local government that has drawn districts that are not contiguous,” Crowell said.

Crowell added that election law isn’t clear on what happens to incumbents when new districts are created in midterm, as is the case with the Board of Education. He said it would make sense for a person to be able to serve out the term to which they were elected, even if they will not be able to run from that district or for that seat again.

Additionally, Crowell said that there is nothing in the law preventing someone from running early for another seat. For instance, a candidate elected in 2010 could design to run for a seat that is up in 2012 instead of waiting for two more years.

That person’s then vacant seat would then have to be filled by whatever means the board uses to fill an unexpired term.

The current redistricting effort is the first of its kind since 1974. When asked about how they think the districts will actually turn out, both Hatley and Mullis had similar comments.

“I really don’t have a clue how it will end up,” Hatley said. “It really doesn’t matter to me as an individual…I just want to do what is most logical.”

Mullis echoed Hatley’s statement. “It’s been more confusing than it needs to be. I will be glad to run at large if that is what is needed. My focus is on the classroom and education vs. protecting my seat or district.”

In accordance with the new law, once the district boundaries are redrawn, they cannot be revised again until the next federal census is taken. That won’t be until 2020.

 

Want to be involved?

The public hearing concerning redistricting is 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Board of Education offices on N. Generals Blvd. in Lincolnton, beside Ryan’s Restaurant.

A sign-up sheet will be available at the meeting for those wishing to provide input to the three plans. A set amount of time will be established for each speaker. At press time, the allotted amount of time had not yet been determined.

Copies of the three plans are expected to be posted to the Lincoln County Schools website prior to the meeting. However, at press time they were not yet available.

 

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