09/13/11 — Public gets look at proposed district lines

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Public gets look at proposed district lines

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 13, 2011 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- The town's population of 4,589 has changed by only 88 people over the past 10 years, but population shifts have been large enough to force Mount Olive to redraw its district lines for the first time since they were created 20 years ago.

A Monday night public hearing on those proposed changes drew few comments and even fewer people. For the most part, those comments centered on how the count was conducted -- Census figures were used -- and whether maps are available for public inspection. Maps are available at town hall.

Town commissioners took no action following the hearing, which lasted less than 30 minutes -- most of which was taken up by consultant Chris Heagarty who explained the process and reviewed the proposed new district map.

The board is expected to approve the changes when it meets on Oct. 3. The delay will allow the public more time to look at the maps and to ask questions, Mayor Ray McDonald Sr. said.

Town Attorney Carroll Turner told the board that the town is subject to the federal Voting Rights Act, which requires districts to be as close to equal populations as possible, but that population shifts have caused the districts to be out of alignment.

The ideal population per district is 1,147, Heagarty said.

District 3, represented by George Fulghum, is the largest district and has 337 more people than its ideal population, he said.

Minority District 1, represented by Kenny Talton, and minority District 2, represented by Hosea Manley, have about 145 people less than the ideal number. District 4, represented by Gene Lee, is about 40 people short.

The new lines address those changes, while preserving the minority districts, Heagarty said.

The plan calls for District 3 to give up a portion of its southern area to District 1, while picking up an area in the north on the west side of U.S. 117, which is mostly a commercial area.

District 4 will add some downtown neighborhoods including along John Street. District 2 will bring in small portions of what are now Districts 1 and 4, Heagarty said.

Following board approval, the plan will be reviewed and pre-cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Once pre-clearance is granted, the town can implement the new lines. Pre-clearance is not the same as final approval. Rather it means that the Justice Department found no problem with the district lines, but leaves it open for future review and possible legal action.

To allow time for the lines to be redrawn, the town board earlier this summer voted to delay the 2011 municipal election until May 8. Filing would begin at noon on Feb. 13, 2012, and end at noon on Feb. 29.