There's nothing — not even hashing out some redistricting maps — that can't be done with good old-fashioned hard work and transparency. Finally.
With maps and the GIS worker who can draw and redraw them in front of every commissioner as well as the public on Wednesday, our county commission tediously and for hours seemed to get to a place where they all were reasonably comfortable with the outlines of 11 county commission districts. But this came only after many complaints and yet another county redistricting public workshop — a workshop that the chairwoman of the Hamilton County Commission had to be pressured into scheduling.
Of course this workshop began with sparks — embers left smoldering for the past few weeks as Commissioners David Sharpe, Warren Mackey and Katherlyn Geter repeatedly asked for maps and the full data that goes with those maps — not just racial demographics, but voting pattern data, as well. The fight aired anew in Wednesday's regular commission meeting before our representatives began the real work of an open and intensive redistricting workshop.
Sharpe noted he had no concerns with his District 6 map, but he knew Geter and Mackey had concerns. He asked if changes Geter had sought via email to Commission Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley (per Smedley's edict) had been made, and he noted that Geter could not be at the meeting.
"As I've said previously, with a Dec. 30 deadline, I don't understand why we must press forward with a Nov. 2 vote, when we have not had full access to the data in order to make well-informed decisions for our districts as a whole. I would request we put this off an additional week at least."
Smedley, who recently announced she is "strongly" considering a run in 2022 to for Hamilton County mayor, went on a defensive grandstand.
"We vote frequently with commissioners being absent. I have no control over whether or not a commissioner is here. But we've never delayed a vote unless we didn't have a quorum ... I don't know what point you're making there in terms of having access to data. We established during the first workshop what our rules would be, and I told you all that I would be the main point of contact with GIS unless there was a challenge ... With a majority [of votes], you could have changed that. Also, one of the reasons that decision was made is because you called our GIS department and bullied them."
Meow! Please note: Sharpe wasn't asking that the workshop be put off. He was asking that planned Nov. 2 vote, for which the state deadline is Dec. 31, be reset a week or two later.
When he could get a word in, Sharpe responded: "If requesting a map is bullying ... then I'm guilty."
Smedley: "I called you and confronted you and you apologized because you knew you were guilty ..."
Sharpe: "My apology was very simply to coddle your ego. The way that you progressed through this whole process has been nothing short of dictatorial ... This is old-school, Boss Hogg-style politics — trying to ram a map through without proper consideration. It's not acceptable. It's completely void of transparency, and no matter how often or loudly you refer to it as transparent does not make it true."
It might be easy to write all this off simply as red and blue county politics. Several times already in this process, various members of the commission have referred to it as such. Smedley told the Times page the only commissioners disturbed were Democrats. And Mackey last week decried the commission's Republican "attitude."
Redistricting is not for the faint of heart. It's complicated, and it's made more so by even slight partisan efforts to build gerrymandered districts for political fiefdoms. It's required in the Constitution along with the Census counts — all with the intent of providing all of us citizens fair representation.
A good many folks came to the commission last week and said as much, adding that they don't understand the county's redistricting. That's why it's all the more important that these maps and open discussion of how they change be available to help us understand why we, our neighbors, our schools and eventually our political candidate choices, may be moved from one district to another.
Even Republican Commissioner Randy Fairbanks, District 1, questioned the claimed transparent process: "It's constantly mentioned this has been the most open and transparent. Maybe that's true. Here's what has been lacking ... The transparency is we've come up here and looked at the maps after they're drawn. There's not as much transparency how we got to these maps ... It might have been in an email, but it wasn't discussed publicly."
Granted, it was more transparent than some workshops of the past held in a back room of the courthouse, but clearly that's not enough. And this redistricting is being hindered further by some commissioners suggesting it must be hurried up with a quick vote so "we can get on with the county's business."
Excuse us, commissioners. You have no more important county business than this.
Fair representation has far-reaching tentacles, affecting every other bit of county "business" there is — from our choices at the voting booth to taxes, from schools to federal allocations. This is where the rubber meets the road, and if you don't want to take the time to be thorough here, you shouldn't be commissioners — let alone a county mayor.
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