County Commission Soon to Act on Redistricting Plan

August 22, 2011
Dwayne Page

The DeKalb County Commission, which also makes up the redistricting committee, is working on a plan to better equalize the population count among the seven districts of the county based on the results of the 2010 census. What that means is that some residents who are currently in a particular district now will find themselves in another district once a plan is adopted, which also means they will have different school board, constable, and county commissioners representing them than those who currently serve them.

The committee met last Thursday night at the courthouse for the first time to review proposals with David Tirpack, GIS Manager for the State Comptroller of the Treasury Office of Local Government. In addition to all fourteen members of the county commission, Director of Schools Mark Willoughby and Administrator of Elections Dennis Stanley also serve on the committee.

2010 census figures show that DeKalb's population is now at 18,723. In order to make them equal in population, each of the seven districts would need a population of no more than 2,675. But the districts don't have to be exactly equal in population, as long as the overall population deviation of the county is not more than 10%.

Tom Fleming, Director of the Office of Local Government for the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, said in a phone interview with WJLE on Friday, that the overall 10% deviation range in population is the benchmark. DeKalb County's deviation range exceeds that by seven percent at 17%. The overall range is calculated by determining the difference between districts with the highest and lowest relative deviation. For example, if the highest and lowest deviations are +5% and -4% respectively, then the overall range is 9%. "You're (DeKalb County) in a deviation of 17% overall as it relates to the differential between the low and the high. The courts, in the past, have used what we call the 10% rule. The overall deviation between the low in a district and the high in the highest district. You want the relationship between the high and the low to be somewhere below 10% to be sure that you fall within those guidelines. Ten percent is the standard guideline," said Fleming.

In DeKalb County, the third district has a total of 2,890 residents while the seventh district's population totals 2,881, which makes each of those districts deviation over by +8%. The second district, meanwhile, has 2,428 residents, which puts it's deviation under by -9%. Adding the +8% to the -9% puts DeKalb County's overall deviation at 17%. Since the overall benchmark is 10%, the boundaries in at least some or all of the districts will need to be adjusted to bring the overall range down to 10% or below.

Fleming explained that in order to make the needed adjustments, the county will have to go by census blocks in shifting population groups from one district to another. "The county commission district lines must be on census block boundaries. Those are basically streets, rivers, and things like that. Visible features which have been set out by the census bureau. Each block has a population in it and the way you change the districts is you move each block from one district to the other as the redistricting committee directs. However, it is the function and responsibility of the county commission. What we do (State) is provide a service. We don't have the power to veto what they (county) do. We only provide a service and assistance to them. But the responsibility for the redistricting is with the county commission," said Fleming.

Voting precincts could also be affected by whatever decision the county commission makes on
redistricting, according to Fleming. "If there's very little change in the districts then that probably won't affect the voting precincts. It might affect a few voters. The thing I want to emphasis here is its not about voters, its about representation. Its about total population and the representation for the county," added Fleming.

Currently, the first district has a population of 2,517, a deviation of -6% or 158 persons fewer than 2,675.

In the second district, the population count is at 2,428, a deviation of -9% or 247 persons fewer than 2,675.

The third district population is 2,890, a deviation of +8% or 215 more than 2,675.

The fourth district's deviation is -7% or 193 fewer than 2,675 at 2,482

The fifth district's population is only off by -1% at 2,654, just 21 persons fewer than 2,675

The population in the sixth district is at 2,871, a deviation of +7% or 196 persons more than 2,675.

The seventh district has a population of 2,881, a deviation of +8% or 206 persons more than 2,675

Under the law, the county commission must adopt and have the new redistricting plan in place by January 1, 2012.

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