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Henderson to draw own redistricting map
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Newton County Commissioner J.C. Henderson was the lone elected official to oppose proposed redistricting maps at Tuesday's public hearing, and he will be given the chance to draw a map he agrees with despite fellow officials saying he's already had several chances.

In order to even out population totals between the five districts, District 4 has to gain nearly 7,000 residents and District 3 needs to give up a similar amount. The two would appear to be natural partners, but Henderson said he did not want all 7,000 additions to come from western Newton County.

He also complained that he did not get a fair chance to draw his own map, but fellow elected officials strongly refuted that statement and said he could never show that the numbers for his map actually worked.

County Attorney Tommy Craig said in a Wednesday email that another meeting with the state's reapportionment office has been scheduled for Dec. 19 "to see if we can finalize a consensus map." District 4 representatives Henderson and Almond Turner will likely attend, and all other officials will be invited, Craig said.

Whether officials would accept any new map by Henderson is unknown as none of the other nine school board and commission members expressed concern with the current proposals.

While the redistricting maps don't need unanimous approval, Craig said such approval gives the maps a much better chance of being approved by both the Georgia General Assembly and U.S. Dept. of Justice.

Double Gate neighborhood at issue
After the meeting, Henderson clarified to The News that his only complaint was that he did not want to take the approximately 1,200 residents of the Double Gate neighborhood, off Brown Bridge Road in District 3, into his district. Rather, he wanted to take 1,200 residents from just southeast of Covington in District 5.

When asked why he wanted that change, Henderson said the Newton County Minister's Union did want Double Gate to be in District 4. Minister's Union President the Rev. Willie James Smith confirmed Henderson's statement, saying after the meeting that the neighborhood wasn't wanted in District 4 because it would dilute black voting power as Double Gate is a mainly white neighborhood.

District 4 is 57.52 percent black, and black voting power must be protected during redistricting whenever possible under the Voting Rights Act. However, both proposed maps gave District 4 a black majority, even with Double Gate included.

Officials expressed concern with taking 1,200 residents from District 5 on the eastern side of Covington, because District 5 would then fall too short of the ideal number of residents and would have to draw from another surrounding district, causing a domino effect.

Henderson, fellow officials at odds
District 3, which had 26,791 residents in 2010, appears to be the natural choice to give residents to District 4, which had 13,372, but Henderson reiterated that he did not want all of his district's new residents to come from the western part of the county.

"I myself personally didn't want to add on in just one direction; I wanted to take on people who surround District 4," Henderson said.

However, fellow officials said Henderson was never able to prove that the population numbers on his map would work and disputed his claims of unfair treatment.

Henderson said he drew a map at the state office which was rejected by his fellow officials. He then went to the county's Geographic Information Systems department and had them draw what he acknowledged was the same map, which he presented again Tuesday.

He said he didn't know whether the number on his map would work out, but officials said that was a lie.

"J.C., I'm sorry, but I'm just not going to allow you to sit here and lie. I can't do it," said District 3 Board of Education Member Shakila Henderson-Baker.

"We did sit back and allow you to draw your lines and those numbers did not work," she said. "J.C., you already made the statement that not everybody is going to be happy. That's true, not everybody is going to be happy. But you can't sit here, having taken an oath, and just sit here and make up things. We allowed you to do that. Those numbers didn't work."

District 1 school board Member Jeff Meadors agreed that the numbers have been proven to not work.

"This is the fourth time we've met on these maps, and you've had your fair share of conversation and discussion every time. But you have not proven that your numbers work," Meadors said.

Henderson continued to disagree, saying he wasn't given a "fair shake."

"It didn't work because we didn't take the time out for them to work. Remember, what the consensus was? We were going to take the maps that everybody suggested. No matter what I said, you were ready to go and we weren't coming back (to the state redistricting office)," Henderson said. "So I came to GIS and did the map I felt was best for District 4."

Frustration mounted during the two-hour meeting, as Henderson continually expressed dissatisfaction, while other officials expressed frustration and confusion at his stance.

Another complaint of Henderson's was that he was never shown an overlay map that clearly displayed what District 4 would look like both before and after the proposed changes.

However, several officials said overlay maps were clearly presented at both of the meetings at the state's redistricting office. The state has special software just for redistricting. County attorney Andrea Gray has asked the state for copy of the overlay map, which will be provided next week.

Another Henderson complaint was that portions of the current District 4 were actually removed in the original proposal, but Chairman Kathy Morgan said those sections were added back in the second proposal created, namely the Navajo Trail neighborhood off Flat Shoals Road. The only other sections that were removed from District 4 were large tracts of vacant land in both the far northwest and southern sections of District 4.

Next steps
The rest of the officials present Tuesday supported the second proposed map created at the state office; District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing and District 5 school board Member Abigail Morgan-Coggin were absent.

With a 2010 population of 99,958, each of Newton County's five districts should have close to 19,991 residents, and Craig said, if possible, districts should not stray further than 1 percent above or below the ideal population. The preferred new map met that standard; Henderson will see if he can match the standard without causing any new issues, such as splitting up communities and neighborhoods.

Craig, who was charged by the board of commissioners with leading the redistricting, attempted to mediate the process, including setting up another meeting with the state. He told The News after Tuesday's hearing that meetings with the state do not cost any money. The printing of additional maps costs a small fee.

In order to ensure the new districts are approved and in place by the May 23 qualifying date for the 2012 primary election, the boards of commissioners and education need to approve a map by Jan. 3.