Just when we thought perhaps the squabbling about Hamilton County redistricting was over, several members of the school board on Wednesday acted as though they'd slept through the whole thing and woke up to see they are being bulldozed by Hamilton Commission Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley and her GOP commission colleagues just like everyone else.
In a Wednesday statement, Hamilton County Board of Education Chairman Tucker McClendon of East Ridge and Vice Chairwoman Tiffanie Robinson of Chattanooga said they had been blindsided by the commission putting a resolution on next week's agenda to expand the school board districts from nine to 11, mirroring its own increase in districts.
McClendon and Robinson asked the commission to slow down and defer "any redistricting of school districts until after the board has had the opportunity to discuss this issue in-depth and, perhaps, to formulate its own proposed redistricting map "to reflect the needs of the school system's stakeholders."
But we have to wonder just what the school board members thought was going to happen. After all, there was — finally, and after a good bit of sniping — a joint meeting of commissioners and school board members about redistricting on Oct. 26.
That was a week before Smedley held the Nov. 2 vote that she repeatedly made clear neither heck nor high water would postpone. She also repeatedly — and heatedly — claimed this was the most open and transparent redistricting discussion ever held here. Except for all us ordinary people who weren't in on the email chains of commissioners who were directed to send all their requests to her, and she in turn would be the sole contact for the GIS folks who were redrawing maps up even until about 30 minutes before the final vote. Not until the last two workshops (of at least six) was any of that map drawing and horse-trading to get there done in public.
Traditionally, the commission and school board district lines here have meshed, though that's not a state requirement and isn't the case in other metropolitan counties.
McClendon in an email statement wrote: "We were informed Tuesday afternoon that Resolution No: 1121-5A had been materially changed to now commit the Hamilton County School Board to an 11-member school board district. The resolution also mentions the need to move forward due to new legislation in which school board elections may be partisan, but as of this statement that legislation has yet to be signed into law by the governor."
Here's the thing. It won't make too much difference to us voters who our representatives are — partisan or not. From a practical standpoint, Hamilton County, with the exception of its center core, is so heavily Republican it's hard to see how redistricting can make much difference around here.
All that sadly said, we tend to agree with Hamilton County Election Commission Administrator Scott Allen who said at that joint school board/county commission meeting that in light of the county commission decision to expand to 11 districts, it would initially cause confusion for voters if the number of school districts remained at nine.
On the other hand, the school board members have a point. They should have been notified by Smedley and the commission before being "blindsided." So much for all the talk about collaboration between the commission and the school board. This shows, once again, that talking the talk and walking the talk are two different things.
There also is the matter of how much more do we voters need to pay for our elected representatives who can't even manage to make courtesy calls to each other.
We'll soon be paying for two more county commissioners, to the tune of at least $24,500 each, plus fringes like travel and phones and other extras. And if the school board expands seats and districts as well to mirror the commission, we'll pay another minimum of $12,200 — times two.
Tally it all up and our tab rises by at least $75,000 a year, in perpetuity.
The county didn't change. The schools didn't change. Our streets aren't any smoother and our youngsters aren't any smarter. We'll just be paying the salaries of four more folks who likely will vote to ban more books from school libraries but never talk to each other unless they're mad about being upstaged or seeking a vote for a pet project.
It's just another day in Hamilton County's saga of "As the World Turns."