Albany going forward with redistricting

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Albany City commission voted Tuesday, following lengthy discussion, to direct city staff to move forward with constructing a timeline that will lead to the adoption of district maps based on new census data.

Linda Meggers, a recognized expert in the field of redistricting, presented the commission with two possible maps that she believes will meet strict U.S. Justice Department standards and the constitutional requirement of "one man, one vote."

But the issue that arose during discussion Tuesday was whether the commission should move forward with public hearings when up to four seats on the commission could have new faces in January.

"I just don't see what's the rush," Ward 1 Commissioner Jon Howard said. "I think that the new people should have a say in how the districts look."

Commissioner Christopher Pike, in a statement joined by Commissioner Bob Langstaff, said he was concerned that if the City Commission moved forward with public hearings and continued to process before the new members of the board came on in January, that some of the newly-elected board members could end up living outside the wards in which they intend to serve.

"I just think that it would be a waste of time to go through all of the steps to approving the map, only to have to change them and go through it again when the new folks come along in January," Pike said.

But City Attorney Nathan Davis and Meggers argued that, because Georgia is one of a handful of Southern states bound by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it and the city must receive preclearance by the U.S. Justice Department before any of the districts are redrawn -- a process that can take more than 120 days, which could put the city perilously close to a 2013 deadline.

The redistricting debate in Albany will likely be focused on two districts -- District 2 which currently covers a portion of north central and Northeast Albany, and District 5, which covers mostly Northwest Albany.

According to Meggers, District 2 is undersized by roughly 15 percent, while District 5 is more than 10 percent over acceptable population limits.