League Presents Findings to County on Redistricting
It's been 13 years since the Moore County Board of Commissioners residency districts were revamped, and the League of Women Voters thinks it's time to reapportion the districts in the cause of equity.
Members of the Moore County league presented their findings to the commissioners at a work session Thursday night.
"My district is huge," admitted Board Chairman Colin McKenzie, acknowledging that population changes since 1995 have indeed affected the size of the five districts.
Carolyn Mealing, who presented the report on behalf of the League's Fair Representation Committee, said the league works for equitable apportionment, something that is a priority at the state and local levels as well as with the county league.
"Voting is one of the nost cherished rights and responsibilities of our citizens," Mealing said.
In a meeting lasting several hours, the board also heard Airport Authority members ask for $2 million to build additional hangars to earn more revenue and to retain current clients.
All five members of the authority, Airport Director Gary Barnum and special assistant Carol Thomas were among those present to promote the cause. Authority member Don Delauter made the presentation, which included information that rent of existing hangars accounts for a revenue stream totaling $137,000.
Delauter told the commissioners that the airport has a waiting list of 23 aircraft owners wanting to rent space at the Moore County Airport. A few on the list own more than one aircraft. Delauter expressed concern that some owners may find space at another airport, such as the one in Lee County, if Moore County does not provide more hangars soon.
The commissioners also discussed in more detail their plan to establish a County Government Efficiency Advi-sory Board composed of local volunteer experts.
Initially dubbed the financial oversight committee, the new name reflects the panel's purpose "to examine specific projects and initiatives within county government for efficiency, options and recommendations to make the best use of taxpayers' money." The draft plan calls for projects to be recommended by the commissioners, the county staff and the public as channeled through the county manager.
Board members hastened to clarify their intentions and to dispel any rumors that formation of the committee reflects on the competence of the staff.
"First and foremost, it goes without saying that we have some of the most competent and dedicated staff of any county in North Carolina," Commissioner Cindy Morgan said. "For that we are indeed grateful."
Morgan and Commissioner Larry Caddell are credited with coming up with the idea to develop the committee using "volunteers with business and administration backgrounds" who are described as "yet another example of dedicated people offering their time and effort to us to help as we strive to continuously improve in our work for this great county and the people of this county."
In keeping with board policy, no action was taken on any of the multiple topics discussed during the workshop meeting, which lasted several hours.
The league study on redistricting shows that the same reason for redistricting that occurred in 1995 still exists: dramatic population increases.
Moore County elects its five county commissioners according to residency districts. The residency restriction applies only to candidates. On the other hand, all registrants are entitled to vote on candidates for each seat on the board. Thus, voting is at large, but the commissioners must reside in specific geographical districts. The county adopted this system in 1965.
In her presentation, Mealing gave examples of changes in population within the different districts. Growth and shifts in population account for most of these changes.
By legislative mandate, the Moore County Board of Education was required to carry out redistricting through a 1995 referendum. The school board consists of eight members, five of whom are elected from residency districts, the remaining three elected at large.
In that referendum, voters decided to continue the school board's nonpartisan election system.
Unlike the states, counties are not required to redistrict locally after each population census, Mealing told the commissioners. States must reapportion legislative districts after each census, something that is due in two years.
Mealing described the extent of the research conducted by the committee. Members conferred at length with Glenda Clendenin, director of elections, and found enthusiastic cooperation there, she said.
One of the league's recommendations calls for the county to work with the Board of Elections to establish new voting district lines using coordinates entered digitally into the geographic information system.
"Having an accurate map would be an invaluable help to us," said Clendenin in response to a question from Commissioner Tim Lea.
League committee members discussed legal issues with the state legislative legal staff, met with the North Carolina GIS staff and met with Anita Earls, director of advocacy at the University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights, to consider minority concerns. On the civil rights issue, the league learned that Moore County is in full compliance with federal voting rights laws.
Mealing said the league took a survey of 18 other counties in 2005 and learned that only one of those counties had carried out redistricting in the last 10 or 12 years. A few counties were thinking about it but have taken no action.
The league's list of recommendations opens with a call for the county to determine if indeed there is substantial inequality of representation within the districts. If this determination is made, then the commissioners would be asked to adopt a resolution redefining voting districts so as to reduce deviation in size to no more than 5 percent from the ideal district population. Maps using the new figures would be redrawn, entering coordinates into the digital map system.
Finally, the league wants the commissioners to establish a process in which redistricting on a consistent basis is carried out after each census.
Clendenin pointed out that the Board of Commissioners has authority to amend district lines. She also commended the league for "wonderful work" on the issue.
McKenzie recalled his experience from two years ago when the county was trying to find the population center for the ideal location for the senior center.
The county worked with Chris Koltyk, the GIS planner with the Planning Department and now serving as interim planning director. McKenzie said they determined the population center to be in an area off Midland Road at a point between Southern Pines and Pinehurst, an area that was not regarded as suitable for the center. He said the county finally chose the present location on U.S. 15-501 near Pinehurst as the third-best site from a population standpoint.
Saying that redistricting "doesn't matter" to him, McKenzie said he does not expect local Democrats to raise objections to the proposal.
"I think they (Democrats) would be happy to have it done," McKenzie said.
McKenzie's term expires this year and he is not expected to seek re-election. All five members of the board are Republicans.
During the meeting, the board also heard Tax Administrator Wayne Vest discuss a proposed minimum tax bill system and change in the way requests for refunds are denied. Other topics on the long agenda included a request from the Duncan Foundation, a pay plan, prayer before public meetings, and the 2009 budget.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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