District plan endorsed

Published 12:17 am Saturday, September 10, 2011

They have a plan.

In a special called meeting Thursday, members of the Beaufort County Board of Education tentatively endorsed a redistricting blueprint for the nine territories they represent.

The board has to cycle through redistricting in response to population shifts recorded in the recent U.S. census.

The board reviewed two redistricting alternatives unveiled by Deborah R. Stagner, an attorney with the Tharrington Smith law firm of Raleigh.

In an informal poll of the board, conducted by Chairman F. Mac Hodges, most members favored Alternative 1, with some of them stating the map presents the more cohesive picture of communities like Chocowinity.

“I think Alternative 1 keeps things together better,” said board member Cindy Winstead.

The board didn’t formally endorse Alternative 1, but signaled its intention to schedule a public hearing on the proposal.

A date for the hearing hadn’t been set at last report.

Hodges expressed concern that he would be on the edge of his winding District 5, which takes in the Old Ford and Tranter’s Creek areas.

“I did not know I was right on the line,” Hodges said. “I thought I was kind of in the middle of District 5.”

He added it had been “very difficult” to explain to voters why these districts are divided as they are.

Hodges pointed out District 5 is the only one of the county’s nine school-board districts crossing the Pamlico River.

“It makes it hard for the people on the south side of the river,” he said. “They think they’re being represented by (board members) Terry Williams and (E.C.) Peed down there.”

In response, Stagner said both alternatives have District 5 crossing the river.

She acknowledged Hodges’ preference for keeping the district contiguous north of the river, but she added, “The population just doesn’t work out to do it that way.”

She left open the option of board members making adjustments to the plan.

The two plans maintain all of the board’s incumbents in their current districts, but shift some of the district lines around in response to census tracts.

Census tracts are the smallest units of population measured as part of the census conducted by the federal government every 10 years, Stagner explained.

Board member Mike Isbell referenced the incumbency issue.

“Anyone who wants to stay on the board should be confident that’s possible,” Isbell said.

Stagner cautioned the plan, once approved by the board, has to be “precleared” by the U.S. Department of Justice before it can take effect.

The Justice Department has to preclear election changes to meet the stipulations of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was designed to guarantee minority voting rights.

The preferred map likely will be signed off on by the board and submitted to the Justice Department before the end of the year.

If finalized, the plan would be in effect for next year’s elections.

Board member Barbara Boyd-Williams did not attend the meeting.