No speakers at public hearing
The Monroe high school auditorium was ready. Two microphones were placed on either end of the stage; the timekeeping light panel was set up and all nine members of the Board of Education were in their seats, ready to listen to public comment on the new redistricting plan.
But nobody spoke.
Nathel Hailey, the local NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Color People) president sat by himself in the audience, one of approximately 10 people in attendance.
At the Aug. 2 School Board meeting, Mr. Hailey spoke at length during public comments, asking that the public hearing be held after the new school year starts, which begins on Aug 25.
“I ask you to delay doing any voting on any plan until school starts,” Hailey said, “which will allow parents and community leaders to weigh in on a plan that will be appropriate for all citizens of Union County.”
According to Luan Ingram, the Chief Communications Officer, both local newspapers mentioned the public hearing in articles published after the last meeting and the school administration broadcasted a notice to the home of every registered student via the Connect Ed telephone messaging system.
“Notice of the public hearing was placed on all 54 UCPS web sites,” Ingram said, “and 39,351 Connect Ed calls were placed on Aug 8 with a success rate of 85.2 percent.”
Once it became apparent the no one was going to speak, the board chairman Dean Arp closed the public hearing and then opened the regular meeting for discussion.
“The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the plans submitted to us by Ms. Stagner” Arp said, “and take any necessary action or give direction to Ms. Stagner [Deborah Stagner of Tharrington Smith, the firm engaged to design the redistricting maps].”
District 1 representative John Crowder spoke of his concern over the maps and whether the demographic data was accurately depicted for District 1.
“I don’t feel that the numbers add up correctly,” Crowder said. “There seems to be a miscount of 2,500.” Both Mr. Crowder and Carolyn Lowder noted that a new set of detailed maps were delivered just prior to the meeting, both felt that they had insufficient time to review them.
Ms. Lowder, who has represented District 2 for 16 years, felt current maps would make it much more difficult for eastern county residents to either win a seat in either her district or someone from New Salem area to win in District 4. “The western populations in both districts will far outnumber the eastern population” Lowder said, “making the only district likely to have a eastern resident will be District 1.”
At-large member David Scholl offered a motion to accept the redistricting plan as submitted to the board and authorized Ms. Stagner to finalize and submit the plan to the Department of Justice review.
The board approved Mr. Scholl’s motion a vote of 7-2, Ms. Lowder and Mr. Crowder voting against.
Once the plan is submitted, it is expected that the DOJ will return its findings in 6 to 8 weeks.