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January 23, 2014

HamCo school board rejects phase 3 of redistricting plan

Jasper — Phase 3 of the county’s proposed redistricting plan was discussed again at the Jan. 13 meeting of the Hamilton County School Board, and against Superintendent Thomas Moffses’s recommendation to proceed with phase 3, the board made no motion to move forward.

“We had worked with the county commission on their plan for review of the county population and possible re-draw of county lines,” Moffses reminded the board members. “Again, this was a county project that was initiated. As a board, you agreed to phase 2 of that project and I believe the cost of that was $4,000. We agreed that the county would pay half and the school board would pay half.”

Phase 3, Moffses said, is another $2,000 - again split two ways between the county and school district - however, it was noted there was never any discussion by the school board to participate in the third phase.

“At this point I would need some direction and discussion from the board,” Moffses said. “It was my understanding, after phase 2, that you would discuss and make a determination if you were going to proceed with any of the additional phases. If you so choose to proceed, I would need an approval from the board for payment of phase 3.”

Attorney Jay Willingham explained that phase 3 of the redistricting project will consist of narrowing the new district maps down to three to five different alternatives and giving a presentation to the board.

“I personally think it’s a waste of money myself,” said board member Gary Godwin.

Board member Johnny Bullard reminded everyone of the 1985 federal court order, which arose out of a NAACP lawsuit to create a single minority district.

“They can’t go against that,” said Bullard. “That was a federal court order that has never been rescinded and it’s going to stay in place one way or another, so procedure, as far as this is concerned, is kind of a moot point. You’re going to have to have a majority-minority district in this county, regardless. They can draw it any way they want to, but the percentage is going to have to be there. If they don’t, they’re not going to just be in violation of a state law, but a federal law.”

“That’s the concern,” said Willingham.

Bullard replied, “It should be more than a concern.”

A majority-minority district is one in which racial or ethnic minorities comprise a majority (50 percent, plus 1 or more) of the population.

Bullard said he respects the commission, but the school board didn’t become aware of the redistricting negotiations until far too late in the process. Since the deadline has already passed, which ended in Dec. 2013, the redistricting maps can’t be changed until 2015, the next odd-numbered year.

Moffses then made a recommendation that the board approve the payment for phase 3 of the project and the continuation of the Hamilton County re-districting process. There was no motion made by any of the board members, so the recommendation failed.

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