Despite a number of people from across the county asking Hamilton County Commissioners to wait two more weeks for the public to digest redistricting maps that were changed in five districts just 30 minutes before, all six white Republican commissioners on the dais moved full steam ahead to approve the changes and send them to the state.
Never mind that the state's deadline is Dec. 31 and the commissioners were voting on Nov. 2 — 59 days early. Never mind a number of public pleas — including those from the three Democratic commissioners — to wait.
Granted, commissioners should not wait until the last minute. But waiting two or even three more weeks would still assure a vote before Thanksgiving.
But this commission is anything but fair-minded. They had only two meetings in which they held actual public discussions of their give-and-take horsetrading. And finally at those two meetings just within the past week did they bring in GIS officials to flash up maps and data — things like majority/minority data and district populations. But the audience in the commission room and online could not read the tiny type.
Commissioners knew all this and voted anyway, despite members of their audience — their constituents — making clear in final comments why they should wait.
— There was Steve Slater, a retired insurance agent and Mowbray Mountain resident, a member of the Hamilton County Industrial Development Board from District 1, and chairman of the Soddy-Daisy Trojan Fund, who found himself separated from the Soddy-Daisy district now represented by Randy Fairbanks and added to District 2, represented by Chip Baker of Signal Mountain.
Slater made several points: "If this map goes through, I can't even vote for my school board representative. ... If I wanted to represent Soddy-Daisy on the school board, I couldn't do it. I would be representing schools on Signal Mountain, though Mowbray Mountain is connected at the hip to Soddy-Daisy [just as Signal Mountain is to Red Bank]. ... I'd like to ask Commissioner Baker if I ran for your seat, do you think I could win? No. Nobody on Signal knows who I am. ... Mr. Fairbanks ... if I ran for your seat, do you think I could win?"
Fairbanks replied: "I wouldn't want to try. You'd have a good shot."
— There was Joe Graham, a Lookout Valley resident and former county commissioner, who successfully fought last week to get Elder Mountain reconnected to Lookout Valley after commissioners had mistakenly "crossed the river" and put it into Baker's district. Graham's continuing concern is that residents of newly created districts 10 and 11 had no voice in the redistricting process: "The Howard community, Alton Park, East Side, East Lake. There's no voice. ..."
— There was Angela Favaloro, of District 5, who challenged the commissioners who rushed the vote with excuses like the Hamilton County Election Commission's "urgency" [to set new precincts.]
"On Sept. 15 when they gave their presentation along with GIS, they did mention that they only needed a couple of weeks to get this processed and that if they had maps by Dec. 1, they would be able to complete the precincts in time for candidates to pick up paperwork on time. ... When we discuss budgets, we have lengthy deep discussions that take a long time. This is 10 years' worth of budgets. This is 10 years' worth of seats. This is 10 years' worth of all of our lives. ... To feel that this is just a box that needs to be checked off so you can move on to the next piece of business is an incredible disservice to every person in this county."
— There was Everlena Holmes, of District 5, who reminded commissioners of her request made weeks ago: "There's nothing like printing off [map] copies and having them available ... for us to pick up like we pick up the minutes. ... But you're getting ready to vote now, and all of our voices are going on deaf ears."
— There was Gertha Lee, of District 4, moved now to the new District 11, who begged for a delay.
"We are a community that is identified as being historically disenfranchised. The one who remains outside looking in. ... Decisions are being made on how to draw the district, which will affect our public schools, our public health, our public housing, and our ability to vote on a candidate that has our interests at heart. ... We believe to be moved from District Four to 11 is gerrymandering to water down our vote. ... The commission agreed to allow 14 days for the public to review after a resolution was adopted, which ... has not been provided."
— There was Matt Johnson, pointing to his watch: "Since the last changes were made to these maps, it's been 30 minutes. I've been timing it. You all are going to vote on a map that's going to affect us for the next 10 years, and you've made this decision in 30 minutes."
— There was Stefanie Dalton, of District 2, being moved to District 6. She also is the vice mayor of Red Bank. "As a fellow elected official," she chastised commissioners: "Hundreds of voters have been moved around and haven't had a chance to look at this and reach out to you. ... I emailed every single one of you yesterday and heard back from one of you. ... I find it particularly disturbing that five white commissioners are saying that a map is fair to a black female commissioner who is trying to represent a minority majority district. If you all feel this map is fair, why can't you wait two more weeks?"
Commission Chairman Sabrena Smedley moved immediately to seek a motion for a vote, and all the Republican commissioners voted to adopt the new redistricting — even with changes made minutes before to Districts 1, 2, 5, 8 and 10. Democratic commissioners David Sharpe, Katherlyn Geter and Warren Mackey voted no.
The victorious commissioners congratulated themselves and went home. Hamilton County voters need to remember this day.
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