The Hamilton County Commission is likely to grow by two members in 2022.
Nothing has been set in stone, but all nine current commissioners made positive comments about an 11-member option requested by commission Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley.
A map with new district boundaries was presented to the board Wednesday by the county's GIS department at the commission's third redistricting workshop.
The commission is eyeing Nov. 17 for a resolution on the number of districts to be made and voted on, but Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said such a resolution could come sooner or as late as Nov. 30.
"This is the most cost-effective approach," Smedley said of the 11-member option.
The new 10th and 11th districts would be on different sides of the county. The 10th district would include parts of Tyner and then move east and then north to include parts of East Brainerd, Collegedale and rural Hamilton County. The 11th district would begin in the southwesternmost part of the county and include all of Lookout Valley, Lookout Mountain, St. Elmo, Alton Park, Rossville and East Lake.
Most commissioners had small tweaks they wanted to make to the district map, but none flat-out rejected it or said the map was unacceptable.
The changes each commissioner requested will be submitted to Smedley and then the GIS department, and a new map will be presented at a workshop next Wednesday.
In its previous meetings, the body had discussed keeping the current nine districts but also moving to options of 10, 12, 13 and 15 districts. Each district would have about 33,291 people under the 11-member option, down from the current 40,000.
The map presented Wednesday keeps all cities within Hamilton County within specific districts. Currently, both Red Bank and Collegedale are broken into two districts.
District 3 Commissioner Greg Martin called keeping all of the municipalities together "genius" and said Jason Shaneyfelt of the GIS department who generated the maps was a "miracle worker."
Smedley asked each commissioner to weigh in on whether to move forward with an 11-district option.
"This is the best I've seen so far," said District 9 Commissioner Steve Highlander. "It's almost providential."
"My first look at this map looks good," said District 4 Commissioner Warren Mackey. "I'll probably support it. Nothing's ever going to be perfect."
"I am open to the 11-district option," said District 5 Commissioner Katherlyn Geter.
"At first blush," said District 6 Commissioner David Sharpe, "it's the best map we've seen to date."
"Eleven [districts] is probably a great number," said District 2 Commissioner Chip Baker.
"The 11-district option seems reasonable with our growth," said District 8 Commissioner Tim Boyd. "It's not a giant step. This [map] far exceeds the other ones."
Members of the public at the meeting implored commissioners to hold district gatherings of constituents to comment on the map, and Smedley reminded those present that it was up to each commissioner to do so. Some commissioners already have done so, and some have meetings coming up.
She also let the county attorney answer a concern about the 11 districts not perfectly reflecting the approximately 30% of non-white residents of the county.
County residents, Taylor said, "are not so gathered that you'd come up with [a perfect number of minority] districts."
Whether the county winds up with 11 districts or some other number, the number of Hamilton County Board of Education members may not be known until next year, Smedley said Thursday.
"It's clear as mud," she said.
Two state laws seem to say contradictory things, Smedley explained, one that limits school board membership to nine and one that says the number can go as high as 11. The state legislature may have to clear it up, she said.
Fortunately, since the nonpartisan school board members do not have primaries and are not elected until August, there is time to get a more definitive answer.
Plus, said Smedley, she wants the school board itself to weigh in on the matter, and it is currently in the midst of a critical superintendent search.
The redistricting committee will reconvene after the commission's regular meeting on Wednesday. But it appears, at least for the time being, that commissioners may have found a number they can live with.