Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Oconee County Commissioners Voice Opposition to Redistricting Plan but Don’t Expect Changes

At Town Hall Meeting

Each of the five members of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners tonight expressed opposition to the proposed redistricting plan that is currently moving through the Georgia House of Representatives and that would split Oconee County into two House districts.

They also expressed resignation to the plan, indicating that they will just have to live with what they see as the almost certain outcome.

Rep. Chuck Williams, elected to represent the county in the 113th House District only last month, said he had heard the commissioners clearly and personally would rather Oconee had not been split, but he said at least some change was inevitable, given the population shifts in the state.

The commissioners were holding a town hall style meeting at the Civic Center tonight, attended by about 20 citizens, when they made their comments about redistricting.

Williams sat in the audience until the end of the hour-long meeting, when he expressed his own views on the redistricting plan that the House took up today. The session, called primarily to deal with redistricting, began yesterday.

Both the House and Senate Reapportionment committees met this afternoon and approved the plans released on Friday.

Williams said he did not attend those meeting today because he was in budget meetings.

The proposals are moving forward, he said, and he said he didn’t know if public input would have any impact on the outcome.

On Friday subcommittees of the House and Senate released proposed plans to deal with the results of the 2010 Census.

Those plans leave Oconee County intact in the 46th Senate District, but they divide the county between a new 117th District and a new 119th District. The county at present is entirely in the 113th District, along with parts of Clarke, Morgan and Oglethorpe counties.

Three Oconee County precincts–Bogart, Malcom Bridge and Athens Academy–would be lopped off the north of the county to form a district with parts of Clarke, Barrow and Jackson counties.

Rep. Doug McKillip, elected from the current 115th District in Clarke County in 2010 as a Democrat, would reside in the new district. McKillip switched to the Republican Party in January.

The 115th District has a record of voting Democratic, and it voted overwhelmingly for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Barnes in 2010.

The new district would have voted overwhelmingly for Republican Gov. Nathan Deal had it existed, based on the actual 2010 voting records for the precincts that are to be moved into the district.

Williams’ new 119th District will include major parts of Clarke County that formerly were in McKillip’s 115th District.

Questions at the forum tonight ranged widely, dealing with the county’s involvement in the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir project in Walton County, the possible purchase of property opposite the courthouse in downtown Watkinsville by the county, and the challenges facing the county in the future.

Board members agreed that finances are likely to be the biggest challenge they face in the near future.

I asked the commissioners to indicate their views of the proposed redistricting plans and whether they had expressed those views to Williams. They indicated that they had.

The full video of the meeting is available on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo site.

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