The first of four scheduled hearings to receive citizen input on redrawing voting districts in Richmond County was held Oct. 18 at Belair K-8 school on Harper Franklin Avenue.
The meetings are being held by the Ad Hoc Redistricting Committee, made up of members of the Augusta Commission, Richmond County School Board and local legislative delegation.
Committee Chairman, District 7 Commissioner Sean Frantom, opened the meeting by explaining the map those attending may have seen is just a draft.
“It’s a starting point. It is not a done deal,” he explained. “This draft was done by an individual out of the redistricting office in Atlanta, with no local input or understanding of our community.”
He said no decisions will be made until they get citizen input and that is the purpose of the public meetings.
Elections Director Lynn Bailey gave those attending an overview of the process and the guiding principles the committee adopted to steer their goals.
The first person to speak was Summerville resident Laura Irwin, who mentioned the guiding principles.
“With some of the previous redistricting, our neighborhood has already started to be divided, which has not benefited our neighborhood. The current proposal will further chop up Summerville,” she said. “As a neighborhood, we share common issues and desires for the place we live. We feel it is in the best interest of our neighborhood to remain intact in District 3. Therefore, we strongly oppose further division of the Summerville neighborhood in keeping with the guiding principles of this committee.”
She was referring to guiding principle No. 6, which calls for redistricting to respect boundaries of neighborhoods, as well as preserving the core of the existing district and communities of interest.
This first meeting was held in District 3, which has seen a more than 21% population growth since the 2010 census, while Richmond County grew by just 3% overall. That disparity means District 3 will likely see the most changes in the redrawn map.
A total of nine resident spoke to the committee, including Patricia Geter, who asked why her district is being split.
“To my understanding, I’ve been hearing different rumors about the purpose. We would be at a disadvantage for the school system for some of our children,” she asked. “They would have to be going to another district. Is that true? What is the purpose, is it going to benefit us? Or are we going to be at a disadvantage?”
Bailey explained this does not re-zone schools. This is redistricting for only elected officials.
“It’s not fair to you all to live in a district that’s 25% overpopulated,” she explained. “Your representative, your commissioner, Mrs. McKnight, she has more people to represent than do the commissioners that are here on the committee members. So, we need to find a balance so it’s equal.”
Porsche Hopper wanted to know how the District 3 numbers became imbalanced.
“My question is when did this process start of having a 25% growth and why is our district overpopulated? Why was this even allowed, if you know you have to have so many people in the district to maintain that district?”
Frantom explained the imbalance developed because the district has become a popular area for new housing and residents moving in. He said the committee must go by the numbers provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Oliver Page, who worked as a census enumerator, said even repeated follow up visits to homes where no one sent in the census form often didn’t help.
“I would go back a week later to the same house. They were inside the house. Their car was parked outside,” he said. “I would go back four or five times to the same house. It was an occupied house so why then are people saying the numbers are wrong? People chose not to be counted.”
The committee will hold three more meetings. The next is Oct. 20 at Diamond Lakes Elementary School. That will be followed on Oct. 25 at Richmond Academy on Russell Street and Wheeless Road Elementary on Oct. 27. All the meetings begin at 6 p.m.
There is a website for citizens to get additional information on the process and view meeting videos.
There is also a link to a citizen submission form for anyone who cannot attend one of the public meetings.
There is now also an interactive map.
Following the series of public meetings, the ad hoc committee will hold its next meeting on Nov. 10. That meeting, which will begin at 6 p.m., will be held at the Board of Education Office on Broad Street.