Members were at odds on Thursday about whether the DeKalb School Board should have five districts or seven. They adjourned for a three-day recess without approving the map.
State Rep. Simone Bell, who chaired the House redistricting committee, was clearly disappointed.
“I am stumped,” she said. “This is not what I anticipated.”
Bell said that it had been her hope that the delegation could have come to a consensus on the map.
Members did approve a map for the DeKalb Board of Commissioners, but the School Board districts were more contentious.
In addition to accounting for population shifts from the 2010 Census, members have to reduce the nine-member School Board “to no more than seven members” as mandated by Senate Bill 79, which passed the Legislature last year.
On Feb. 6, a redistricting sub committee approved a five-member map that ends the terms of the four board members – Thomas Bowen, Don McChesney, Paul Womack and Dr. Pamela Speaks – who are up for re-election this year.
The five remaining board members – Sarah Copelin-Wood, Jay Cunningham, Donna Edler, Nancy Jester and Dr. Eugene Walker – would represent the five districts until their terms end in 2014.
After the Feb. 6 vote, Bell said a five-member map was the cleanest way to do it.
“We have to deal with the law as it is,” she said. “If some legislator wants to come back next year and do seven districts for 2014, they can do that.”
Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, author of SB79, proposed a seven-district map, created with Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, that did not make it out of committee. She tried Thursday to get the delegation to consider it.
She said that the five-district map significantly damages her area of the county.
Benfield said their seven-district map respects communities of interest, carefully follows attendance zones, and ensures that members whose terms don’t end until 2014 were not drawn out of their districts.
“I thought it was a fair map and a reasonable map,” she said. “The five-member map does not respect communities of interest. I won’t sign it.”
Oliver blasted the School Board for not participating in the discussion to draw the maps.
“The School Board has been 100 percent invisible and non-cooperative in relation to this process,” Oliver said. “At no time have they ever come forward in any visible way and in fact, refused to return phone calls from the chair. This is unprecedented in my many years of multiple reapportionment.”
Walker, who did not attend the delegation meeting, said Thursday afternoon that the map drawing is a political issue and that the School Board chose not to participate in its reduction.
“We don’t want to reduce the numbers,” he said, “so why would we participate in our demise?”
Walker said Oliver did not invite any participation in Senate Bill 79 and bypassed the DeKalb delegation to get it passed.
“Now they want the School Board to participate in this farce,” he said. “She didn’t hold a public hearing so we don’t have a clue how the people feel.”
Bell could not get 10 signatures on Feb. 9 to move the five-district map to the intergovernmental coordination committee and then onto the Senate.
Oliver conceded that she probably did not have 10 signatures for the Oliver-Benfield map either.
Because of the three-day recess, legislators got an extra day until Feb. 15 to come up with a map.
Rep. Dee Dawkins Haigler said her colleagues who are opposed to the map are being disingenuous.
“People are unhappy about a five-member district,” she said. “Where was the outrage when SB79 came up in the first place that said smaller districts were better.”
She said Gwinnett County was held up as a model but that when they followed Gwinnett, “everyone is up in arms.”