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Social Circle still wrestling with redistricting

Staff Correspondent

SOCIAL CIRCLE --Agreeing on new district lines after the 2010 U.S. Census has not been easy for the Social Circle City Council, but it could get even more complicated if the preferred map results in newly elected officials residing outside their districts.

The city must adjust district lines as a result of the 2010 U.S. Census. The lines are drawn so that they represent as close 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.

Making sure that two of the four districts are strong minority districts has been the challenge.

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

Under Option 4, the most recent draft of proposed district lines, 50.63 percent of District 1 would be minority while District 4 would drop to 12.76 percent minority. District 2 would decrease its minority population just slightly to 61.15 percent and minorities in District 3 would make up about 34.03 percent of the residents.

The council agreed at the time to have the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission draft a fifth version of district lines. However, 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.

On Tuesday, the council took up the matter of the proposed district map, which now presented another problem.

"I hate to continue to be a fly in the ointment, but after the election there are people who, on this map, would not be in the district they were elected to represent," said Councilman David Keener, who represents District 3.

For example, he said, John Callahan was elected Nov. 8 to represent District 3 on the Social Circle School Board. Under Option 4, however, Callahan would reside in District 4.

City Attorney Joe Reitman said the same issue could arise with newly elected City Councilman Steve Shelton, who could get displaced from District 4 and would reside instead in District 2.

When reached for comment on Wednesday, Shelton said he knew that Callahan's district could be at issue, but was unaware that he could be affected as well.

Shelton has had to defend his residency since he entered the campaign. Rumors have persisted that he resides outside District 4. Shelton has steadfastly denied those rumors.

"I reside at 662 S. Cherokee -- that's where I filed for my homestead exemption, my mail goes there -- I have everything I am required to," he said on Wednesday.

Shelton said he has owned the home on Cherokee Road for 15 years and his daughter and mother live there.

Shelton and his wife also own a home on Richmond Drive, in District 3.

"The homes are in my name, I pay the taxes on both of them, the utilities are in my name -- everything," he said.

Shelton said he has talked with the city attorney, his personal attorney, the Secretary of State's Office and the Walton County Election Office and all agree he meets the residential requirements to represent District 4.

Shelton said he believes the rumors about his residency are politically motivated because he is involved in a lawsuit against the city and the city manager.

Due to the questions about the district maps, Keener suggested on Tuesday that the council ask the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission to modify Option 4 to make sure all elected officials remain in their districts.

The City Council agreed to invite a representative from the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission to speak to the council in December.