Finding a solution Commissioners seek Legislative solution, study re-districting

Shelby County is well on its way to solving its districting problems.

County officials unanimously approved a resolution on Monday stating that they were aware of the &uot;possible legal problems created by the decision of the Alabama Supreme Court in the case of Dillard vs. Baldwin County Commission.&uot;

Members also discussed a variety of suggestions from the planning department concerning redistricting the county.

The problem came to the attention of the commission in September when County Attorney Frank &uot;Butch&uot; Ellis informed them about a recent court ruling stating that the consent decree which was issued establishing Shelby County’s nine-member commission would be found illegal should it be tested in court.

The current setup of the commission was determined by consent decree in 1990 with nine commissioners and a rotating chairman either every year or every two years.

Prior to that, Shelby County’s governing body was a four-member commission with the probate judge serving as chairman. Commissioners lived in their districts but ran at large. In 1959, it was amended that the commissioners would run in the districts in which they live.

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled in May 2002 that the move from a four-member, or four-district, commission was unlawful without a state statute, however, which leaves Shelby County vulnerable, Ellis said.

That ruling has already affected the Baldwin County Commission which was given 14 days to dissolve its current seven-member governing body and submit a plan to revert to the four-member panel in place in 1931.

According to media reports, the Baldwin County Commission had a court-mandated two weeks to re-district into four areas with one commissioner per area who would be elected countywide.

Shelby County could face these same terms, Ellis has warned members of the county commission.

The resolution approved by the commissioners on Monday states that &uot;after much study, discussion and careful thought,&uot; the problem would be best addressed by a local act of the Alabama Legislature &uot;establishing a valid and legal number of commission districts.&uot;

It also states the legislative act would determine the method of electing the commissioners from those districts as well as the method of choosing a chairman.

If the act is unanimously approved by members of the commission and Probate Judge Patricia Fuhrmeister, the resolution states, the county’s legislative delegation has agreed to introduce and adopt the act during the 2003 session of the Alabama Legislature.

The commission approved the resolution without discussion.

Finally, it states &uot;That the Shelby County Commission shall prior to the Primary and General Elections to be held in 2004, and for use in said elections, do all things necessary to comply with the applicable requirements &045; and to organize the Shelby County Commission into commission districts in a manner which is consistent with the requirements of the law of the state of Alabama and the laws of the United States of America.&uot;

Redistricting

To that end, commissioners requested that the county’s Department of Development Services begin preliminary work on re-forming Shelby County’s districts.

County attorney Ellis told the commissioners that redistricting needed to occur in Shelby County anyway as population growth during the past 10 years has skewed several of the districts.

According to 2000 census figures, the ideal population for each district is 15,921 residents.

Currently, the actual population of only two of the districts is close to that figure.

Commission district 3 represents 16,387 people; and district 5 represents 16,037 people.

Commission district 1 represents 13,314 people; district 2 represents 9,709 people; district 6 represents 13,983 people; and district 7 represents 12,074 people.

Districts 4, 8 and 9 represent well above the 15,000. District 4 represents 20,187 people; district 8 represents 20,828 people; and district 9 represents 18,106 people.

According to Todd McDonald of the countys planning division, planners have been using a computer program to aid in the redistricting process.

&uot;We followed major roadways, creeks, railroads &045; using census tracking blocks,&uot; he explained, indicating they had kept the home seats of the each of the commissioners within their districts.

McDonald presented three of several plans they developed as a starting place for redistricting.

The three plans divided the county into districts ranging from 15,919 and 15,924 residents.

From this, McDonald said the commissioners could study the divisions and work with each other to change what they felt was necessary.

&uot;All we’ve done is a mapping, statistical exercise,&uot; he said. &uot;Now, we’ll be able to manipulate those areas.&uot;

Commissioner Larry Dillard reminded the commissioners of their goal.

&uot;I think we need to try to keep the major boundaries as opposed to trying to work out something that would help make it easy to get re-elected,&uot; Dillard said