MARTHA K. SEAGLE
Three Lincoln County residents spoke out with concerns during Wednesday eveningâ€™s Board of Education public hearing on redistricting.
All three residents â€“ Jerry Haney, George Barr and Martin Oakes â€“ live in the Denver area and clearly expressed that they believe only one of the three remaining proposals, known as â€œPlan 13,â€ meets the intent of why redistricting was undertaken in the first place.
Addressing the board, Haney said, â€œDistricts are supposed to support equity, not incumbency.â€ Continuing his remarks, Haney added that for over 35 years Lincoln County has been saddled with meaningless districts that represent nothing more than land mass and a former school system (alluding to the merger between the former Lincolnton City Schools and Lincoln County Schools in the 1970s).
â€œDistricts are supposed to represent people, not acreage,â€ Haney said.
Haney chastised the board for having â€œpoor judgmentâ€ in its decision to have five district seats and two at-large seats, saying board members had been warned to go with four districts and three at-large or three districts and four at-large to avoid their current predicament.
â€œNow, because of your poor judgment, we have yet another state statute on the books that was not well-thought-out,â€ Haney said.
The comments then got up close and personal as Haney admonished the board. â€œIt is unclear to me why the citizens of this county should be burdened for the next decade with districts that are gerrymandered and designed specifically to accommodate your personal addresses in 2011. This is not about your incumbency. It is about equity.â€
Barrâ€™s comment was brief and to the point, saying simply that â€œMap 13 is much easier for the Board of Elections to adopt and voters to understand. I strongly urge you to adopt Plan 13.â€
Oakes was the only speaker to lay the issue of non-contiguous districts on the table during the hearing. As reported in earlier editions of the Lincoln Times-News, there are currently no non-contiguous districts anywhere in North Carolina based on information received from Michael Crowell of the UNC School of Government. Crowell is an expert in elections law.
â€œThe state senators and state representatives who designed and enacted the redistricting law know that districts are required to be contiguous,â€ Oakes said. â€œThey were operating under that assumption when they drafted the law. If they hadnâ€™t assumed that, they would have written it in there.â€
â€œCitizens donâ€™t expect and donâ€™t want districts that are dropped all around,â€ Oakes said. â€œPlans 14 and 15 are essentially unfair.â€
The underlying reason for redrawing district lines within the county was to ensure equitable representation based on population. Under the current districts, Houser and Childers live in the sparsely populated North Brook Township and Mullis lives in slightly more populated Howards Creek. These two townships combined had a total population of 14,828 during the 2010 census.
Two additional members â€“ Hatley and Burgin â€“ live in the Lincolnton Township, whose population was 20,145 according to 2010 census data.
The Ironton and Catawba Springs Townships together totaled 43,096 in 2010, over twice that of the Lincolnton Township and nearly three times that of North Brook and Howards Creek combined. The revised legislation was intended to rectify this inequity in representation.
After hearing the approximately nine minutes of comments, the board moved into its normal agenda. Members had earlier agreed to take the public input for Wednesdayâ€™s hearing, as well as input received via the Lincoln County Schools website, and consider it before taking a final vote on redistricting in December.
However, board member Clayton Mullis had other plans. Addressing the board, Mullis expressed his opinion that Plan 13 is the only acceptable plan, echoing the view expressed by Haney that Plans 14 and 15 simply protect incumbency and do not meet the spirit of why redistricting was undertaken in the first place.
Mullis suggested that the members up for re-election in 2012 (Ed Hatley, Tommy Houser, George Dellinger and Kelly Childers) â€œshare in the sacrificeâ€ that will occur as lines are redrawn.
â€œUnder Plans 14 and 15, only the newly elected board members will be affected,â€ Mullis said, adding that he considers Plan 15 to be â€œimmoral and unfair.â€
Mullis said that he is willing to take the newly elected membersâ€™ â€œshare of the sacrificeâ€ by converting his seat to an at-large seat immediately, running for an at-large seat again in 2014. Other newer members of the board Bob Silver and Candy Burgin would represent the numbered districts in which they live and could run for those designated district seats again in 2014.
This proposal, if adopted, would result in long-time incumbents Dellinger and Houser being assured ability to run for a district seat in 2012. A new candidate would run for the district seat where Mullis now lives in 2012, and either Hatley or Childers â€“ but not both â€“ could run for an at large seat.
After presenting his alternative proposal, Mullis made a motion to totally â€œtoss outâ€ Plan 15. This motion was seconded by Burgin, but failed in the final board vote, with opposing votes from Silver, Houser, Dellinger and Childers. Board chair Hatley does not vote except in event of a tie.
â€œIâ€™m disappointed, but theyâ€™re entitled to their opinions,â€ said Mullis.
The board plans to make a final decision on which redistricting proposal to adopt at the Dec. 14 meeting.
In the meantime, the three plans remain posted on the Lincoln County Schools website for public review. The public can continue to submit comments on each plan prior to that meeting.