The Feb. 14 deadline to approve new district maps is eight days away, but on Feb. 6 the subcommittees on the two maps could not meet because neither had a quorum.
State Rep Simone Bell, who chairs the delegation’s redistricting committee, said two of the four members – Reps. Dee Dawkins Haigler and Scott Holcomb – were absent when the School Board subcommittee convened at 10 a.m.
Holcomb arrived after the meeting had been adjourned for lack of quorum.
Bell was the only person who showed up for the 11 a.m. meeting on the Board of Commissioners map. All three subcommittee members – State Reps. Karla Drenner, Mike Jacobs and Billy Mitchell – were absent for that meeting.
The maps must be voted out of committee in order to go to the full delegation for a vote, but when the full delegation met an hour later, there was nothing to vote on.
Bell told delegation members at the noon meeting that they really need to get this done this week.
“I need for everyone to make this your priority,” she told her colleagues. “We all have other meetings, other commitments, but on this we are on a strict timeline for Feb. 14.”
She said that over the weekend she received 50 emails concerning the commission and school board maps, and she encountered confusion about Senate Bill 79, which reduces the nine-member School Board to no more than seven members.
Confusion over SB79
Bell said that she will seek a legislative counsel opinion on SB79 because of the community confusion.
She said some people are under the impression that SB79 requires all school board members to be up for re-election this year.
“The law as I understand it, and as other members also understand it, states that if you are a sitting board member, you cannot be taken out of your seat until your term ends,” she said.
Four school board members ¬– Don McChesney, Tom Bowen, Paul Womack and Dr. Pamela Speaks – are up for re-election this year.
The remaining five – Dr. Eugene Walker, Nancy Jester, Sarah Copelin-Wood, Jay Cunningham and Donna Edler – are up for re-election in 2014.
Bell said a request has been made to have a referendum that would change that this year, so that everyone would has to run for election. She said SB79 does not state that all board members’ terms have to end in 2012.
Mary Margaret Oliver, who authored SB79, said neither local nor general legislation can terminate or shorten a term of office of an elected official without a referendum.
“The legal issue is, should we have a referendum to determine whether or not we should want to elect all seven members in 2012,” she said. “That is available to us if we chose to do that.’
Oliver said legislators could have the referendum on July 31 and have all seven people elected in November.
“But I don’t believe that Senate Bill 79 or any fair construction of that says that the people who were elected in 2010 would not serve their full term,” she said.
John Evans, the DeKalb NAACP’s president, cautioned legislators about removing people from office who were elected by voters.
“The people are the ones who elected them and they ought to be the ones who un-elect them,” he said. “We ought to be looking out for the people. We are looking out for ourselves up here and everywhere else. We’ve got to keep people in place so that there is no mistake that we are serving the people. I think we need to keep that in mind.”
Bell said the sub-committee meetings are critical because there are a number of maps to be considered.
“We have maybe five maps,” she said, adding that committee members didn’t get an opportunity to look at them.
“We have to prolong the process for another day,” she said. “My hope is to get them all voted out of committee and out of delegation this week.”
Bell said that if the full committee fails to agree on a single map, she will take two maps from among them to the full delegation for a vote.
State Rep. Howard Mosby, who chairs the delegation, said they have to approve both maps this week because the House will be in recess for several days next week.
He said that he will call for a special delegation meeting this week with 24-hour notice.
After apologizing to the five BOC members, media and 16 other people who showed up for the meeting on the BOC map, Bell said the emails she received over the weekend came from people from different commission districts.
The BOC members in attendance were Sharon Barnes Sutton, Kathie Gannon, Larry Johnson, Lee May and Jeff Rader.
Bell said that since she didn’t have anything else to work on, she drew a map based on the emails she got.
She said the committee is not accepting any more maps.