County, BOE may reshape districts

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Dougherty County Commission and the Dougherty County School Board are each forming committees to review how new census numbers will reshape voting districts throughout the county.

Although each unit operates as a separate, autonomous government, they each have the same number of board members and have, since at least 1980, chosen to share the same political districts.

In a signal that each body intends to follow that same principle, both School Board Chairman James Bush and Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard have met and decided to form a joint committee on redistricting.

Sinyard, who made the announcement to the Dougherty County Commission Monday, said that Bush had decided to have a four-person committee comprising three board members and himself, while Sinyard will likely opt to have a three-person County Commission panel with himself excluded.

The members of each panel weren't immediately announced.

Theoretically, the move should speed up the redistricting process, according to Dougherty County Attorney Spencer Lee, who said Monday that if both bodies can agree on a map that meets the requirements of one-person, one-vote and can meet the U.S. Justice Department's civil rights standards, then both boards could have a map up to the General Assembly for consideration by the time legislators convene.

Redrawing the county districts may prove to be a daunting task based on the results on the 2010 census.

According to the latest census figures provided by the county, District 1, which is currently represented by Commissioner Lamar Hudgins, grew at the fastest pace of any commission district, posting an increase in population of more than 23 percent. That district now has 19,437 people.

Commissioner Ewell Lyle's District 4 was the only other district to post a population gain, topping out at 9.8 percent growth. That district now is home to 17,311 people.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Commissioner Jack Stone's District 6 shrank by the most -- 10.2 percent -- to slightly more than 14,139 people, now the least populated County Commission district. That population decline led Commissioner Gloria Gaines' District 5, which contracted 8.8 percent to 14,361 people. District 3, now represented by Commissioner Muarleen Edwards, shrank by 7.62 percent to 14,560 people, and Commissioner John Hayes' District 2 dropped by 6.37 percent to 14,757 people.

The committee will have to find a way to draw the lines so that the districts have relatively the same number of people without opening the door to discrimination.

Even with a plan, the General Assembly doesn't have to accept the map. Only it has the power to redraw political districts within the state.