Hamilton County Commission holds fifth redistricting workshop to discuss political boundaries

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Hamilton County Commission Chair Sabrena Smedley spoke on her own behalf as well as on the behalf of Commissioner Katherlyn Geter during Wednesday's redistricting workshop.

The Hamilton County Commission on Wednesday continued to hash out issues regarding minority representation and community togetherness as members decide on political boundaries using new population data from the 2020 census.

The workshop was set to begin by 10:15 a.m., according to advertisements put out before the meeting, but the meeting started closer to 12:30 p.m. As a result, several commissioners announced they would be unable to attend - Chip Baker, R-Signal Mountain, Tim Boyd, R-Chattanooga, Katherlyn Geter, D-Ridgeside, and Greg Martin, R-Hixson.

Those present focused their discussion around maintaining districts that have a majority of minority residents and keeping communities - such as municipalities, school zones or distinct geographic areas - together so their residents can have the same representative on the commission.

The commission has been considering expanding to 11 members from the current nine.

(READ MORE: Questions arise about impact on schools from Hamilton County redistricting)

Commissioner David Sharpe, D-Chattanooga, said he would like to see the one of the new proposed districts incorporate both sides of East Main Street to "keep continuity" of the Jefferson Heights area.

Sharpe also asked for the Tyner school area to be kept all in one district, and to keep Red Bank whole as one community, rather than splitting it over multiple districts.

Commissioner Randy Fairbanks, R-Soddy-Daisy, said he would like to keep the communities of Flat Top Mountain and Mowbray Mountain in District 1, which he represents, rather than allowing them to be moved to District 2, represented by Baker.

Fairbanks said he heard from multiple residents at a redistricting meeting he held in his district on Tuesday evening that they did not want to be moved into District 2 because they consider themselves part of the Soddy-Daisy community.

Chair Sabrena Smedley, R-Ooltewah, said she, too, had been contacted by those residents.

"I was called by a few different people from Flat Top who are upset," Smedley said.

(READ MORE: Democrats question transparency of Hamilton County Commission redistricting process)

"I kept saying that as the crow flies there isn't much difference in the districts," Fairbanks said. "But they told me they don't fly like crows. They drive, and it takes an hour to get from the mountain to the rest of that district."

Baker said he would like both Flat Top and Mowbray in his district.

"They're not in your district," Fairbanks said. "They're in your district on this proposed map, but they're not in your district right now."

"They used to be in my district," Baker said, explaining that both communities were in his district before the maps were last redrawn. "I would like to keep those."

Baker suggested those in District 1 who do not want Flat Top and Mowbray to move into District 2 should let him know directly.

Though Geter was not present Wednesday, she emailed her comments to Smedley before the meeting so that her point of view could be included. Like Sharpe, she asked that the entire Tyner school community be kept whole, in her area, which is District 5.

Geter also stressed the importance of keeping the Bonny Oaks community, Summit and Avondale in her district.

Ideally, she said she would like her district boundary to follow the "natural border" of Lee Highway, all the way down to Spring Creek, according to Smedley. Geter also would like to keep Bess T. Shepherd Elementary School in her district, and changes made to the maps at the meeting allowed for this.

(READ MORE: New redistricting commissions splinter along partisan lines)

Geter and Mackey agreed to split Glenwood vertically, with Geter getting the east side of town and Mackey getting the west side. The dividing line between the two areas would be Glenwood Drive. Geter also gained part of Dalewood in the proposal, which would allow both Geter and Mackey's districts to maintain their minority-majority status.

Smedley said Martin and Boyd told her they were happy with the maps as presented and did not present her with any changes they would like to see made to the proposed maps in advance of the meeting. However, she made a phone call to Boyd during the meeting to see if he would be willing to allow the East Brainerd area near the Holly Oak subdivision to move into her area, District 7. He said that would be fine.

The commission is tentatively set to vote on the maps Tuesday.

Mackey said he would like to delay that vote, but Smedley said that would not be possible unless he made a motion to do so at Tuesday's meeting.

The maps as discussed at Wednesday's meeting will be posted for public viewing on the county website by Thursday, commissioners said.

Contact Kelcey Caulder at kcaulder@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @kelceycaulder.