Photo by Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Commissioners reviewed two proposed maps for re-drawn commission district on Tuesday. One map was drawn up by state re-apportionment officials (right), and the other by county staff. The commissioners narrowly voted to use the map created by county staff.
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners narrowly approved a new map for commission districts, on Tuesday, that would leave people living in the southern half of the county feeling the biggest changes — if state and federal officials sign off on the re-shuffling.
Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve a map, drawn up by county officials, which would move the western half of Jonesboro, and parts of Lovejoy which are east of Tara Boulevard, from District 3 — which is represented by Commission Vice Chairman Wole Ralph — to District 4, which is represented by Commissioner Michael Edmondson.
The map was approved over another proposed map, which was drawn up by state re-apportionment officials, at the request of Edmondson. That map would have also moved western Jonesboro to District 4, but it would have kept all of Lovejoy in District 3.
Edmondson and Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell voted against the map drawn up by county staffers. Edmondson also said he had not seen the map that was approved Tuesday night, until just before the commission meeting.
“While I appreciate it is based on the data I received from the state, I understand that it hasn’t yet been approved, or measured by the state,” Edmondson said. “That causes me concern.”
The map will now go to the Clayton County Legislative Delegation for review, and it will be up to the delegation’s members to propose legislation that would make the changes more official. U.S. Department of Justice approval would still be needed, to ensure compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act, if the map survives legislative scrutiny.
Community Development Director Patrick Ejike explained that the state requires counties to split the populations of their commission districts evenly, although individual districts are allowed to go as much as 5 percent over, or under, the number that represents an even split.
The map approved, Tuesday, shows each district should have 64,856 residents, if the county’s 259,424 residents were split evenly among the four commission districts. The map also shows that, if the county were to deviate from that even split, the allowed population range would no less than 61,613 residents, and no more than 68,099 residents for each district.
“Everybody is within the state law,” Ejike said. When questioned about exact details of the changes between the map drawn up by state officials, and the one created by county staffers, however, the community development director, at one point, said, “I wouldn’t classify any of the changes as major.” He finally conceded, “I didn’t memorize the map” when questioned further on the Lovejoy issue.
The map’s final population breakdown is 65,398 residents in District 1 (Sonna Singleton’s district); 64,278 residents in District 2 (Gail Hambrick’s district); 62,818 residents in District 3 (Wole Ralph’s district), and 66,930 residents in District 4 (Michael Edmondson’s district).
By those figures, District 1’s population exceeds the even split figure by approximately 0.83 percent, while District 2’s population is roughly 0.89 percent under that figure. District 3’s population, however, is approximately 3.14 percent below the even split number, while District 4’s population is roughly 3.19 percent over that figure.
Edmondson said the district’s would not have deviated from the evenly split figure by more than approximately 0.8 percent under the map created by the state’s re-apportionment officials, which would have made it a better option.
“It’s got nice, straight lines, [and] there’s less than one percent deviation [from the evenly split population figure],” he said. “It runs along natural boundaries, and does not split census tracts. It’s perfect ... I’m concerned about the integrity of the [adopted] map, and the data.”
Edmondson accused Ralph of not wanting Lovejoy in his district, because of issues over whether he was popular in the city. County Manager Wade Starr told commissioners earlier in the evening, however, that Ralph simply suggested county officials look at the map, and move Lovejoy out of his district because it would otherwise be the only part of the district located east of Tara Boulevard.
“When I talked to Commissioner Ralph about it, he said, ‘Well, take a look at it, and see what happens if he [Edmondson] comes on down and cleans this up, and brings it down here [to the Clayton County-Henry County line in Lovejoy],’” Starr said.
Edmondson also questioned whether Ralph would still live in District 3, under the proposed map, but the commission vice chairman said he continues to reside in his district after the changes were made.
Starr then quickly added, “We wouldn’t have presented a district which he didn’t live in.”
The county manager conceded the Lovejoy move put Edmondson’s district over the allowed limit of 68,099 residents by 250 people, while simultaneously putting Ralph’s district 250 people under the allowed minimum of 61,613 residents. The solution, Starr said, was to take a portion of Edmondson’s district, which jutted into Ralph’s district, along Flint River Road, and transfer it into the vice chairman’s district.
“Now, you have really clean lines on which to make your decision,” Starr told commissioners.