Social Circle to hold public hearings on redistricting

SOCIAL CIRCLE -- In an effort to solidify new district lines well ahead of the next municipal election, Mayor Jim Burgess has scheduled two public hearings on one of the six versions of the map considered by the Social Circle City Council.

City Clerk Susan Roper sent out on Monday a public notice of amending the city's charter by home rule to adopt new boundary lines for election districts. As part of the process of changing the city's charter, the city must hold two public hearings and present the proposed ordinance during two regular consecutive meetings of the City Council.

The public hearings are scheduled for Dec. 13 and Jan. 10. The two meetings at which the charter amendment for redistricting ordinances is to be read and adopted are scheduled for Dec. 20 and Jan. 17.

Any member of the public is permitted to submit an alternate plan for consideration.

"If we delayed this until next year, I was afraid we'd be coming under the old districts in the next election, which is in 2013," Burgess said on Monday. "I really wanted to get this accomplished as an objective during my term, but we didn't quite do that."

Burgess, who did not seek reelection this year, will serve until January when newly elected mayor Hal Dally is sworn in.

Social Circle must adjust district lines as a result of the 2010 U.S. Census. The lines are drawn so that they represent as close as possible to 1,057 residents per council member district and so that black residents are not disenfranchised, as stipulated under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1964.

The city has employed the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission to draw the new maps based on the Census figures, but council members have not been satisfied with the minority distribution reflected in the different versions.

In June, the City Council reviewed a fourth version of redrawn district lines, but the two black council members, Angela Porter and Traysa Price, were still not convinced minorities were sufficiently represented. Porter said it would be preferable if minorities constituted around 60 percent of two districts.

The council agreed at the time to have the NEGRC draft a fifth version of district lines. After reviewing that fifth version later in the summer, the City Council agreed it preferred the fourth option, but decided to wait to take further action until after the municipal elections in November.

During a meeting after the election, the City Council reconsidered Option 4; however, it was revealed that under this option, newly elected City Councilman Steve Shelton would get displaced from District 4 and would reside instead in District 2.

The Council agreed to invite a representative from the NEGRC to speak to the council in December.

Burgess said on Monday he instead asked City Manager Doug White to have the NEGRC rework Option 4 to slightly adjust the minority population in Districts 1 and 2, represented by Price and Porter, respectively, and to make sure Shelton's residence was in District 4.

"This map actually takes Option 4 and perfects it," the mayor said. "It gives Traysa Price a little stronger minority support in her district, 51.51 percent, and it takes a little away from Angela, to 60.81 percent."

Burgess said he knows it doesn't give District 1 as strong a minority population as Price and Porter would prefer, but he said he believes this is as good as it can get without breaking up census blocks.