By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
Dominating Thursday’s regularly scheduled meeting of the Dade County Commission was a flap about whether or not Dade’s voting districts must be reapportioned.
County Executive and Commission Chairman Ted Rumley said he had walked away, after he and County Attorney Robin Rogers spoke with state legislators recently, with the understanding reapportionment would not be necessary. “Mullis said it wasn’t going to happen,” he said, referring to the state senator.
But Rogers explained that the Dade County Board of Education’s attorney thought otherwise and had already started proceedings with the state. “Since our districts are the same, I would recommend we go ahead – if they are going to reapportion the school board, that they reapportion ours as well,” he said.
For representation on both the school board and county commission, Dade is divided into four voting districts. Rumley explained after the meeting that, though they are roughly defined by geography – District 1 is North Dade, District 2 Sand Mountain, District 3 the valley, District 4 Lookout – by law they must be more or less equal population-wise. That’s why the districts don’t always seem to make sense on the map.
For example, said Rumley, take District 4, the Lookout Mountain district currently represented by Peter Cervelli. “It follows the bluff line until it gets to Burkhalter, then it turns and comes down Burkhalter and Peter comes down and picks up several hundred people in Piney, and then it goes back to the bluff,” said Rumley.
New population information became available last year after the results of the 2010 Census were tallied. Dade’s population hadn’t changed that much over 2000 levels, and neither had the relative populations of the voting districts. “They were very close to begin with, extremely close,” said Rogers.
By law, said Rumley, the districts’ populations must be within five percent of the same, and the only districts that were even close to exceeding that limit were Districts 1 and 4, with perhaps 4- or 500 residents affected.
The issue seems to dwindle further into the academic because of the new at-large nature of Dade’s elections. In this year’s elections and going forward, county commissioners as well as school board members will all be elected at–large. Thus whether or not you have been moved from, say, District 4 to District 3, you can still vote on commissioners and school board members for all the districts.
“So it would not violate the one-person, one-vote rule,” said Rogers. “The only place that it could be called into question is if one district doesn’t have roughly the same amount as the other districts, then therefore you don’t have as many people able to run for that seat as the other districts do.”
In any case, concluded the commissioners, the matter is not up to them but in the hands of the state, and they ended their discussion in a wait-and-see vein.
In other business, the commission had the first of two readings needed to enact a long-discussed ordinance forbidding Internet gambling in convenience store game rooms. Sheriff Patrick Cannon had requested such an ordinance several months ago, saying that Dade residents were gambling away whole paychecks on these online games. The commission agreed readily but the matter has awaited drafting of an ordinance acceptable to all.
Now County Attorney Rogers said he had circulated such a version. “I think there was pretty broad consensus,” he said. The ordinance must now go before the Alcoholic Beverage Commission, or so-called beer board, for adoption, explained Rogers, and then can take effect after a 30-day waiting period. The second required Commission reading will probably be performed at a special called meeting this week.
Other beer board business was also on the agenda: The commissioners had the second reading of an ordinance to establish terms of service for beer board members. Previously, they had served for life, or at the pleasure of the commission, but at last month’s meeting the ordinance establishing four-year terms was adopted.
At Rogers’ recommendation, the commission terminated all the members from the board and then, in a separate action, reinstated them with their new, staggered terms. The members are not necessarily to be dismissed at the ends of their terms but may be reappointed from term to term, as is the case on other governing boards.
Coincidentally, Susan McKaig is resigning from the beer board. Rumley said the commission will probably be able to name a replacement at the expected special called meeting this week.
As it does every year, the commission approved a grant application for federal funds to provide transportation for the senior center. “It’s a good deal for the county and the city,” said Rumley.
The commission adopted resolutions proclaiming February as American Heart Month, Feb. 3 National Wear Red Day, and Feb. 17 Georgia’s Arbor Day.
In his monthly committee report, District 1 Commissioner Mitchell Smith made a point of underscoring the hard work of 911 dispatchers by providing a list of their January dispatches: The 1,978 dispatches included 1,424 law enforcement; fire, 148; ambulance, 204; rescue 202. He said on at least one occasion, things got hectic enough that a third ambulance had to be called in because the regular two were already deployed. “The calls came in boom, boom boom,” he said.
District 2 Commissioner Scottie Pittman used his report to praise the efforts of Dade’s road workers, who he says are hard at it this year because in 2012 mudslides have taken the place of snow and ice. “These guys are all local guys and they don’t get near the praise they deserve,” he said.
District 3’s Robert Goff had been monitoring what bills were on the agenda in the Georgia House of Representatives, and he urged the public to go online and do the same. “You couldn’t make some of it up,” he said.
Peter Cervelli of District 4, reporting on the financial outlook, said it was unbeautiful but a little better. “I’m pretty well satisfied that we’re stabilized in terms of sale tax collections,” he said. Collections were up 14 percent over last year, he said.
Cervelli also said the work the county had done to alleviate flooding in Canyon Park Estates was holding up well even under all this year’s rain. That work was complicated by jurisdictional red tape between the county and the state park system, but Cervelli indicated there was now officially a happy ending. “Folks down there are really thrilled,” he said.
And he said people who had not been so thrilled with the performance of the American Red Cross in Dade after April 27’s devastating tornadoes should see Rev. Reece Fauscett of Trenton United Methodist Church. Fauscett is organizing local Red Cross emergency teams so that next time, the organization can act more impressively in Dade during a crisis situation, said Cervelli. The UMC’s telephone number is (706) 657-6170.
In his address, Chairman Rumley urged citizens to vote for continuation of the one-cent ESPLOST (educational special project local option sales tax), which will be on the presidential preference primary ballot on March 6. He says if the measure doesn’t pass, it could mean a 4-mill property tax increase. “It could be a disaster,” he said.
He said the Dade Chamber of Commerce is working to find a tenant for the building vacated by Food Lion, which announced last month it was closing. He said another food retailer as well as a discount goods store had shown interest.
New Trenton Mayor Anthony Emanuel spoke on the “state of the city,” announcing he had eliminated part-time labor as part of his cost-cutting efforts.
It’s election year, and also speaking were: Beverly Floyd, candidate for court clerk; Kerri Bray Carter, candidate for probate judge; and Alan Painter, candidate for Georgia House of Representatives.
Ms. Floyd and Ms. Carter made the point that both their seats would be filled in the July 31 general primary.
Painter, a Republican, took the opportunity to point out that Tom McMahan, his Democratic opponent for the House seat, had in his candidacy announcement referred to it as “District 2,” when by recent legislation it is now in fact District 1. “That’s like me living in Sand Mountain and saying I live in District 4,” he said after the meeting.
Consulted for comment, McMahan said the districts had just been changed, so that while the House is still in session Dade is District 2 though by the elections it will be in District 1. “I was trying to avoid confusion but I don’t think I can,” he said. “Either way it’s going to be confusing, because the old District 2, the one we’re in now, is going to become District 1, and the old District 1, which covers part of Walker County, is going to become District 2. To make it worse, some of the precincts are swapping.”