Lee County political lines moving

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

LEESBURG, Ga. -- With public input at a hearing scheduled for Tuesday still ahead, Lee County officials have zeroed in on a redistricting map that they believe meets the standards of the state Legislature and the federal Department of Justice.

County Attorney Jimmy Skipper summarized work on the reapportionment map, required of state and local governments based on information obtained from the 2010 census, at the Lee County Commission's work session Tuesday night.

"In this process, you have to consider two things: racial makeup and deviation," Skipper said. "Because of the county's population and population density, there is no way to draw up a district whose makeup is predominantly black. It just can't be done.

"As far as density, the magic number we're looking for is 5,659. With a population of 28,298, that gets us closest to the 'one-person, one-vote' concept. The map that is favored by your commissioners gives you a (population) deviation of 1.48 percent in District 1, minus 1.84 percent in District 2, 1.01 percent in District 3, minus 1.06 percent in District 4 and .46 percent in District 5. That's pretty close, even for government work."

The proposed map is a stark change from the county's current five-district configuration, due primarily to the population growth in the southwestern portion of the county. The map that is being considered divides the vast northern portion of the county, a detail that most officials have praised.

"One of the things people in my district (which currently comprises the entire northern half of the county) have been saying for a while is that they don't think they're getting fair representation," said current District 1 Commissioner Dennis Roland, who with District 2 Commissioner Betty Johnson, Lee School Board members Bobby Clay and Frank Griffin, and Elections Supervisor Veronica Johnson worked on the reapportionment map.

"With this new map, there will be two districts that run into the northern part of the county. I think most folks around Smithville and that area will see this as a positive."

Roland is the only sitting commissioner or School Board member who would be drawn out of his current district if the new map is accepted, but he owns property in Leesburg that would allow him to run without opposing one of the sitting commissioners.

"It's not really an issue with me; I may not run again anyway," Roland said.

Even if the map is approved by the state Legislature at a special called session scheduled to begin Aug. 15 and then gets the OK of Justice, all commissioners currently in office would complete the terms for which they were elected.

Veronica Johnson said the one potential glitch associated with the map under consideration is the possible confusion that will surround the changes.

"It should be a smooth process in our office, but there might be some confusion with some of the voters," she said. "Certainly they'll have an opportunity to contact our office, and we'll mail out new voter registration cards. But areas like Hickory Grove Road are going to be split (into different districts), and that can be confusing.

"That's why we're holding the public hearing Tuesday. We want citizens to express their concerns. There are a million ways to draw a map; we just found three that we think meet the state and federal criteria and focused on the one that best meets our needs."

Betty Johnson, who went to Atlanta to work with state officials on the redistricting maps, called the process "amazing."

"It's amazing they were able to focus in on these tiny census blocks and come away with a map that gives us what we're looking for," she said. "I've heard that there are some people who've seen the proposed new map who have reservations about the changes, but the people involved in the process felt this map gave us the best possibility of being approved.

"This process is all about the numbers."

Commission Chairman Ed Duffy said he'd heard no negative comments from members of either the commission or School Board, which will use the same districts as the County Commission, about the proposed map.

"I see nothing wrong with it the way it's drawn," he said. "I think it should make the people in Smithville and in the northern part of the county happy."

The proposed redistricting map is on display at the County Commission office, at public libraries in the county, at the elections office and in the Board of Education offices. The public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the map at Tuesday's public hearing, which starts at 5:15 p.m.

The meeting will be held in the T. Page Tharp Governmental Building.