County to undergo redistricting, mapping process
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By Christa Jennings
Senior Staff Writer
Based on discussion and action taken during the two-part County Commission meeting this month, the county will be moving forward with beginning the redistricting and mapping process based on population changes according to the 2020 census.
During its regular monthly meeting the morning of January 10, the commission briefly discussed redistricting and possibly setting a date for a work session to begin the redistricting process in accordance with the Code of Alabama Section 11-3-1.1.
At that time the commission mentioned having other topics from the meeting to discuss, as well, and recessing its regular meeting to be continued at a later date. County Administrator Amy Gilliland said that she would check with the appropriate representatives and coordinate with the commission.
The County Commission then reconvened Monday afternoon to continue its meeting from earlier this month. At this week’s meeting, Principal GIS Mike Brewer with East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission and Manager Louis Hines with the demographic research services of Alabama State University’s Center for Leadership and Public Policy were present to discuss redistricting and mapping.
During discussion, Gilliland explained that the prior commission had signed a memorandum of understanding with Hines and ASU regarding mapping and redistricting.
However, county attorney John K. Johnson said that the county has to go through EARPDC for redistricting maps.
Johnson asked Hines how much the county owes ASU at this time, and Hines said the county did not owe anything right now, as the county had made a $1,000 deposit. He added that he could work with Brewer and EARPDC on the mapping project.
During discussion while reviewing prices, Brewer said that per their contract the maximum amount EARPDC could charge the county would be $8,300. Hines said the maximum amount for ASU would be $2,500.
Redistricting generally takes place every 10 years after each decennial census count, as stipulated by the Code of Alabama. In reviewing the population data based on the latest decennial census, each district has to fall within a plus-or-minus 5% deviation.
During Monday’s discussion, it was explained that only District 1 is outside of that requirement, as it has a 5.39% deviation between its Black and white population. As such, they said that District 1 would need to lose about nine people in order to meet the criteria.
The other four districts all fall within the deviation boundary requirement with District 2 having a -3.03% deviation, District 3 having a -2.17% deviation, District 4 having -4.96%, and District 5 having 4.86%.
Those numbers are based on District 2 consisting of 41.76% whites and 53.97% Black population, District 3 having 42.86% white and 51.43% Black population, District 4 having 86.32% white and 9.68% Black population, and District 5 having 92.88% white and 2.57% Black population.
In discussing the possibility of redistricting, Commission Chair Bertha K. McElrath reviewed information presented to the county, stating, “The goal is to make sure that a person’s vote in one district has the same ‘weight’ or ‘influence’ as a voter in another district (one-person, one-vote principle). Minority representation is an important factor to consider for most counties and municipalities when redistricting. Packing or diluting needs to be avoided. Preserving a sense of community needs to be considered.”
Regarding the process, after reviewing the preliminary analysis, the commission would then meet with EARPDC to go over moving district lines and review the resulting demographics in real time to help with decision making.
The proposed district map would then be displayed publicly for at least two weeks for review preceding the meeting of the commission in which the resolution shall be considered. The commission would then go on to adopt the district map and make the new district lines official.
In further discussion, attorney Johnson explained that if the county’s overall population is within a 10% deviation then the county does not have to go through redistricting. He added that case law states 5% deviation by district or 10% deviation for the whole county.
He stated that it was the county’s decision whether to redistrict or not for nine people and if the county wanted to spend up to $10,000 to go through the process, do notifications and redistrict for nine people. If so then he said the commission should vote to redistrict.
During ongoing discussion, Hines said that the Code of Alabama does read that the county “may” redistrict and not that it is required. As such he said it was up to the commission to decide whether it is for the greater good or not.
District 5 Commissioner Lamar Daugherty stated that from a monetary standpoint he did not want to do it, but that the county needs to be in compliance.
He added that he redistricting is not required and the county does not need to spend that money then he would rather not. He stated that if the county can leave the district lines as they are and save the county $10,000 then he was good with leaving the lines as they are.
Johnson stated that the county has strong arguments against the necessity of redistricting, but that the county could still be sued based on the percentage deviation.
Daugherty asked to confirm that if they move people into other districts they can also sue, and Johnson confirmed that yes they can.
After a lengthy discussion, Daugherty asked Brewer and Hines for their suggestions on the matter.
Brewer said that he thought it would be a good idea for the county to proceed with redistricting because of being outside the numbers with the deviation. He added that the county is in “pretty good shape” with its minority districts and that the county would probably only have to move one census block of nine to 10 people in order to be in compliance.
Hines said that “if” the county were to face litigation for not redistricting, then that would force the county to redistrict. As such, he said that if or when the county faces litigation it could redistrict then rather than doing it now.
After a lengthy discussion, McElrath said that she thought the county needed to approve redistricting. She then made a motion to approve beginning the redistricting and mapping process for the county.
Daugherty seconded the motion, and it was passed 3-1. Commissioner Ronnie Joiner opposed the motion after having voiced during discussion that he did not want the county to spend $10,000 to put nine people in a different district, and Commissioner Brandon Davis was not present at the time to cast a vote.
Also during Monday’s reconvened meeting, after much discussion and reviewing the proposed contract, the commission unanimously approved advertising for solid waste collection and disposal bids for the county and unanimously approved applying for a USDA grant.
Also during that reconvened meeting, Coosa EMA Director Sheldon Hutcherson provided an update regarding the tornado damage and relief efforts. He stated that Coosa County had 55 houses damaged in the January 12 tornado.
He encouraged those affected by the tornado to register with FEMA and Red Cross for assistance. He added that a Disaster Relief Center will eventually be open at Rockford Baptist Church, but that he did not have an opening date for that yet.
Regarding debris removal, he said that for this storm event the debris removal does not only include debris from the right-of-way, but also down to the home’s debris, appliances, any destroyed housing material, and more.
The reconvened portion of the meeting was adjourned after more than two hours.
During other business at the first part of the meeting on January 10, the County Commission unanimously approved:
- Adopting a resolution to request Sunday alcohol sales in the county outside of municipal jurisdictions, with this meaning the matter will go forward to be placed on a ballot for citizens to vote on in an upcoming election as a local referendum.
- Reappointing Thomas Barnett to the Fayetteville Water Board as representative for Coosa County members.
- The fiscal year 2022 County Rebuild Alabama Annual Report.
- A memorandum of understanding between the commission and the Lake Martin Area Economic Development Alliance.
- Participating in and adopting a resolution for the 2023 Severe Weather Preparedness Tax Holiday February 24-26.
- An employee in the Sheriff’s Office being able to receive donated leave for a family medical emergency.
- Hiring a part-time employee in the Sheriff’s Office, with the sheriff dividing a previous full-time position into now three part-time positions.
- Appointing Lt. Bradgel Moon to the E-911 Board as the District 3 representative.
- Appointing Margaret Whetstone as the District 2 representative to the County Department of Human Resources.
- Appointing Chair McElrath to remain as the representative for the commission to the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission.
- Appointing Commissioner Daugherty as representative for the Lake Martin Economic Development Alliance Board.
- McElrath signing an award letter and resolution for the 5310 state-approved transit van that will be at Peace & Goodwill, utilizing approximately $16,000 of ARPA funds for the required match.
During the December County Commission meeting, commissioners heard from numerous citizens during public comments.
Anthony McElrath attended on behalf of the Goodwater Disabled Veterans Organization and thanked the commission for its support of veterans in Goodwater and presented a Christmas card to the commission.
Roger Campbell, Pete Rodgers and Scott Dobson also spoke at the meeting regarding their concerns about dirt roads and potholes, as well as the lack of new paved roads in their areas.
Zachary Zipprich with Kellyton Fire & Rescue was on the agenda under public comment for that meeting regarding Kellyton EMS support, but it was reported that an individual from Goodwater attended instead and began asking the commission for funds. County Administrator Gilliland advised him that he had a person who could help him and that he was not on the agenda.
During discussion, it was mentioned that the commission as a whole donated grant funds to both Kellyton and Goodwater for equipment.
District 1 also gave $10,816.96 to Kellyton VFD for equipment and gave $10,245 and another $4,795 to Goodwater VFD for a super vac and groves extractor equipment.
District 2 gave $8,000 to Goodwater VFD for a Lucas machine. District 3 gave $4,992.96, $5,495 and $10,494 to Kellyton VFD and gave $3,000 to Ray VFD.
In total, that means Kellyton VFD received $31,798.92; Goodwater VFD received $23,040; and Ray VFD received $3,000 from the county.
All of those funds were provided from Community Development Block Grant funds provided to the county.
Gilliland reported that the commission also paid Goodwater VFD $23,000 from its general fund for ambulance equipment. She added that the commission is currently reallocating grant funds in order to donate equipment to all of the volunteer fire departments in the county.
“As this list and costs reflect, the Coosa County Commission does help and support the VFD and ambulance services, despite the negative comments posted on social media,” Gilliland stated. “The commission is glad to support ambulance services in the county and will continue to help however it can. Gov. Ivey wants an ambulance service in each county seat. This service is needed, and these services should be working together and helping each other.”
During the December meeting, the commission unanimously approved:
- Sheriff Michael Howell applying for a pistol permit reimbursement.
- The commission applying for business broadband/voice service and signing a Central Access letter of authorization for the Sheriff’s Office, with Commissioner Daugherty abstaining because of a conflict of interest.
- Removing some items from inventory in the Sheriff’s Office.
- Chair McElrath signing a memorandum of understanding between the county and the Alabama Forever Wild Land Trust.
- McElrath signing a resolution agreement between the county and the Forever Wild Land Trust.
- McElrath signing a CDBG Street Improvement Project letter to Director Kenneth Boswell.
The next regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the Coosa County Commission will be held at 9 a.m. February 14. Administrator Gilliland reminded the commission that the cut off for items to be added to the agenda is 12 p.m. the Thursday prior, which would be February 9.