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February 13, 2014

Hamilton County moves forward with redistricting process

School board opted to leave district lines where they are

Jasper — At the Feb. 4 meeting of the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners, it was noted by Commission Chair Josh Smith that the Hamilton County School Board, according to an e-mail they sent to the commissioners, has decided they are no longer considering moving forward with Phase 3 of the redistricting process.

County Attorney John McCormick said, “I would surely recommend that the board of county commissioners continue right along with this. We’re only talking about $2,000 at this time.”

“The dispute is on Phase 3 with the school board,” said Commissioner Buster Oxendine. “They’re saying they didn’t agree to Phase 3 and they’re refusing to pay their half.”

Oxendine noted that Phase 4 is $4,000 and Phase 5 is an additional $2,000. He said he was under the impression that since any redistricting changes couldn’t be made until 2015, it would give them all of 2014 to review the proposed new maps.

Smith’s opinion was that if the board could decide on the new map this year, then in 2015 they could hold public hearings and give the general public time to digest and adjust to the changes.

Upcoming elections this November is what has the commissioners concerned because district lines may change dramatically in 2015. Oxendine suggested waiting until after the November elections to choose which of the three proposed redistricting maps they want to adopt.

Commissioner Beth Burnam brought up the fact that there could possibly be two different district maps; one for the county and one for the school board, as was brought up in the first joint meeting of the two boards. She said she was concerned that the county would be footing the rest of the expense from Phase 3 forward for the redistricting process, and meanwhile, the school board could, at the last moment, decide they wanted to be on board with it and not help pay for it.

“I think we have to move ahead with it,” said Burnam. “It just concerns me that they’ve made the decision not to pursue it at this point and help with the payment.”

Oxendine suggested that the county could very well decide not to make any changes to district lines, just like the school board did.

“I was under the impression that we didn’t have a choice, but apparently there’s a choice,” said Oxendine. “The school board apparently is choosing not to proceed with this.”

Oxendine continued saying that the county already has a minority-majority district.

“We meet that criteria right now with Mr. (Robert) Brown’s district,” he said. “The only thing that we done is we looked at this and we found out that the numbers are out of whack, but if we’re willing to accept the numbers the way they are, we’re having this discussion for no reason. Apparently, you do not have to do this because the school board has chose not to. I’m sure their attorney’s been involved with them. I definitely do not want two lines for school board and county districts. I was told that they were going to make their decision first and then it’s going to be on us,” he added for the record.

McCormick explained that the Florida Constitution requires that each district be made up, as reasonably as possible, with the same population counts. Attorney Cliff Adams noted that there are also federal laws that require equal size districts. Adams said the three new district map options that were presented by Director Robert Pennock from the Center for Demography and Population Health all preserve the minority-majority district.

“He’s mindful of that consent federal court order that we’re still under,” said Adams. “So, he was doing everything he could do with those options to comply with that. We would still have a minority-majority district under these options. All he was trying to do was figure out a way to preserve that and to also equal out the numbers in each district where you don’t have one district with 1,500 people and one with 5,000 people.”

Oxendine offered a motion to accept legal counsel’s recommendation to proceed with Phase 4 and Phase 5 of the redistricting process as much as possible through 2014 and make a final determination of district lines in 2015. The motion passed unanimously.

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