New lines are drawn
By Ty Johnson
Published in News on April 14, 2011 1:46 PM
A week after informing the Goldsboro City Council that the 2010 census indicated that the city's election districts would need to be redrawn, Planning Director Randy Guthrie presented a first draft of the new maps to the council.
Guthrie's assessment of the districts as they currently exist showed that the deviation between ideal and actual racial populations in districts 4 and 6 are too significant to be ignored.
In Guthrie's initial draft of new districts, District 6 would see its geographical area shrink substantially, while District 4 would grow to stretch nearly all the way across the city from east to west. Guthrie repeatedly reminded the council that the map was only a draft.
Council member Jackie Warrick, who represents District 6, called the proposal for his district a "nightmare."
If approved, District 6 would go from being the highest populated district to the lowest, which, Guthrie said, would allow the area to grow as it had since the 2000 census. The district's population is currently more than 35 percent higher than its ideal.
But Warrick's concern wasn't necessarily with geography or population, but with precincts. He wondered aloud how many precincts his proposed area would have, and explained later that one of his constituents' chief concerns was with where to vote.
"It's going to be confusing to the average man and woman as to where they vote," he said.
District 4 council member Rev. Charles Williams' concern was voiced by District 5 councilman Chuck Allen, as he jokingly suggested that Williams would need an additional gas allowance to travel across his district.
"It does kind of spread that area out," Guthrie said of District 4, to which Warrick added that the proposal "butchered" his area.
Guthrie said the Voting Rights requirement makes the drawing of district lines a complex process.
"It's a tough balancing act because of all of the parameters you have to follow," he said.
Mayor Al King said he has confidence in Bobby Bowers, the city's consultant on the redistricting, and emphasized to the council that the maps were only drafts and were subject to changes.
"This is a draft and it could be that before we get it final, it will change," King said. "This is (Bower's) first shot at it. He knows what he's doing."
Another factor that would further complicate the redistricting is a bill in the Legislature that would remove the most recently annexed area, which is in District 1, from the city.
A bill sponsored by local representatives would remove the area from the city limits, leaving the city with no choice but to reconfigure its maps yet again.
But Guthrie said that, because of the way the redistricting seeks an ideal population balance, the de-annexation wouldn't send the proposal back to square one.
"You try to keep the districts generally the same and just make adjustments," he said. "You just erase what you have and start over."
The de-annexation would mean the loss of about 1,500 people from the city's population, meaning there would need to be some swapping of areas among the six districts. Guthrie said the city can't afford to wait until after the bill's fate is decided because the redistricting plan must be sent to the Department of Justice by July 19 to allow enough time for its assessment.
"We're really obligated by law to move forward with what we have," he said. "We have to move forward. If something changes, we'll have to deal with it then. The issue is we have other time restraints we have to follow with the election coming up this year."
The assessment can take up to 60 days, and, in an election year, the city must be prompt in its submission to avoid missing the election because the changes must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department before the election can be held. City Manager Tasha Logan has said if the redistricting process isn't complete on time, the city election will not be held until November 2012 and those who are ultimately elected will serve a three-year term, instead of the normal four years.
King urged council members not to over-analyze the initial map and to give Bowers time to do his job.
"As we go along, you'll never understand it, but you'll develop an appreciation for it," he said.
Logan said the council will discuss the date of a public hearing for the redistricting maps at its next meeting and would look to schedule the hearing for sometime in May.