There were maps labeled “DeKalb Proposed Commission Districts” available on a table in the back of the Maloof Auditorium before a DeKalb County Commission and school board reapportionment public hearing the evening of Jan. 31. During the meeting Commissioner Jeff Rader explained that the staff-prepared maps had not been voted on by the commissioners.
Later in the meeting Commissioner Larry Johnson brought in a larger, modified version of the map that he explained had been discussed in town hall meetings, but also had not been accepted by the commission.
School board member Paul Womack brought a map, but emphasized that it was his proposal and did not have the board’s endorsement. Another board member, Donna Edler, expressed the hope that the school board could meet and agree to recommend a reapportionment plan, but said that had not happened.
Results of the 2010 census, which became available in spring of 2011, indicated that some districts had gained population and others had lost population. As a result, the Georgia General Assembly must adjust district maps for both the schools and the county commission. While every district will not have the same number of people in it, the goal is to have a variance of no more than 2 percent.
The responsibility ultimately rests with the state, explained District 58 Rep. Simone Bell, chairwoman of the reapportionment committees, but the committees of DeKalb representatives are seeking as much input from affected communities as possible. She said committee members are especially interested in receiving recommendations from the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners and the DeKalb County School Board.
John Evans, representing the DeKalb County chapter of the NAACP, said his organization would like to submit a proposed map, but had not yet prepared one. “When is the deadline?” he asked.
Bell said proposed maps should already be in the hands of the committee, but the group of state legislators would still accept them to get as much community input as possible before submitting a report to the delegation. The school board and the county commission were meeting on the issue at press time. The deadline for a reapportionment plan, she noted, is Feb. 14. “Although the legislature has given us a deadline of Feb. 14 to have this decision completed, we must be sure that the process remains open, fair and transparent to write the best possible legislation for DeKalb County,” she said.
Once the General Assembly has approved a plan it has to go the U.S. Justice Department, which has 60 days to accept or reject it. Because Georgia is among the states with a history of voting rights abuses, changes in political districts must be approved at the federal level.
About 60 people, many of them elected officials, were in attendance. There were complaints that the meeting wasn’t announced sooner so that more people could learn about it. Bell said the committee was hoping to have maps endorsed by the county commissioners and by the school board that the public could comment on. When that didn’t happened, she said, “we just decided to go ahead and schedule a meeting. I’m really sorry about the short notice.”
“We will not draw a map until we’ve heard from the public,” Bell said, adding that the task is complicated by the fact that a change in state law forces DeKalb County to reduce its school board from nine to seven members.
A few unaffiliated residents stepped up to the microphone to comment. Most urged the committee not to break up districts where people already were working well together. Several were concerned about potential changes in the Chamblee-Brookhaven area where commission districts 1 and 2 meet.