10/04/11 — Mount Olive OKs lines for voting districts

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Mount Olive OKs lines for voting districts

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 4, 2011 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- For the second time in as many months, the public Monday night had nothing to say about proposed changes in the town's voting district lines.

After no one took Mayor Ray McDonald Sr. up on his offer to comment, the town board voted unanimously to approve the changes and to forward them to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The plan, which shifts lines to more evenly distribute the town population, 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.

The redistricting was required because of population shifts brought to light by the 2010 Census.

Federal law requires that the districts be as close to equal populations as they can be, and the ideal population per district is 1,147.

However, under the current lines, District 3, represented by George Fulghum, is the largest district and has 337 more people than its ideal population.

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

The board's approval isn't the final step. Mount Olive remains subject to the amended federal Voting Rights Act. That means any changes must 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 approval. It means that the Justice Department found no problem with the district lines, but leaves it open for future review and possible legal action.

It will be the first time the lines have been changed in 20 years. Normally, the lines changed following the U.S. Census. However, there was not enough population change 20 years ago to require any change.

To allow time for the lines to be redrawn, the town board this past 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.

In other business Monday, McDonald appointed commissioners Ray Thompson and Hosea Manley to a committee to review whether the town's finances would allow an across-the-board 2.5 percent pay increase for town employees.

McDonald said he also wanted to include Town Manager Charles Brown and City Clerk Arlene Talton in the discussions about the potential raises.

"Have something back by Dec. 1 on what we can do," McDonald said. "When we were doing the budget and all of the cutting and everything we had in there, we had a 2.5 percent increase in there for them. We told them at that time we would take another look at it in December."

The increase would cost the town $21,628 for six months. If it were to be approved and remain in place, it would be an additional $42,000 annually.

McDonald said he had forgotten about the issue until several town employees had asked him about it.

"We told them we would do that," he said. "I want to tell them something even if we tell them no."

No one on the board commented when McDonald asked if they had a problem with that.