Hamilton County Commission delays redistricting vote

Hamilton County Commission delays redistricting vote

August 4th, 2011 by Ansley Haman in News

Hamilton County Commissioner Larry Henry

Hamilton County Commissioner Larry Henry

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

The clock is ticking -- although not loudly yet -- so the Hamilton County Commission is deferring a vote on a plan to redraw the county's nine districts.

Commissioners were scheduled to vote on a proposal that would shift the boundaries of some voting districts based on the latest population figures from the 2010 U.S. census. Under federal law, redistricting plans must be ready by Jan. 1.

A scheduled vote on the plan was set for Wednesday's agenda, but Chairman Larry Henry announced before discussion of the agenda's first item that the resolution adopting the redistricting plan was being deferred. He did not give a reason in the meeting.

The announcement came after a 20-minute discussion by the commissioners behind closed doors. They said they discussed legal matters in the closed meeting.

District 8 Commissioner Tim Boyd said commissioners discussed redistricting during the recess.

"I think they're just going to tweak the [voting] precincts," he said. A reduced number of precincts could save money, he said.

Joe Graham

Joe Graham

The proposed redistricting plan includes a rather drastic alteration to District 6, Commissioner Joe Graham's district, which includes parts of the inner city and North Chattanooga, part of Red Bank and Mountain Creek. In the redrawing, it would shift westward to include St. Elmo, Alton Park, Lookout Mountain and most of Lookout Valley.

After the boundaries are shifted, some of District 6 would be in Districts 4 and 5, and some residents in Graham's district oppose the change, saying they'll be represented by someone they did not elect.

"I'm voicing my constituents' concerns," Graham said after Wednesday's meeting.

Commissioners and the county geographic information systems department worked with residents to create the proposed maps, focusing heavily on preserving at least 60 percent majorities in predominantly minority districts, Henry said after the meeting.

"We've tried to be real sensitive to minority districts," Henry said.

The commission must draw boundaries that create less than a 10 percent population difference between the largest and smallest districts. Henry said three districts in the plan are close to the 10 percent deviation mark.

"What we're trying to do is get these deviation numbers as close as we can," Henry said.

Henry said the goal is to vote on a revised redistricting plan Aug. 17.