Nash County commissioners will hold a meeting at 2 p.m. Wednesday that includes a public hearing on the county’s proposed redistricting plans and an announcement of a new county manager.
County officials said Tuesday in a statement that a public hearing on the redistricting plans will be added to the agenda for the recessed board meeting. This is the fourth time this month the board has met in a recessed meeting since its regular meeting on Oct. 4.
Most of the intervening meetings have been related to interviews for the hiring of the next county manager. Commissioners plan to announce that decision at Wednesday’s meeting. However, the issue of redistricting was not on the agenda for any of those meetings.
The only time that any public discussion of specific county population data or proposed district maps was at the Sept. 20 board meeting.
One version of the redistricting plan was presented to commissioners at the Sept. 20 meeting. Attorneys Craig Schauer and Amanda Hawkins with the Brooks Pierce law firm were on hand at that meeting. Peter Morrison, the lead demographer on the team, was present remotely.
County board Chairman Robbie Davis said the county hired the Brooks Pierce team to redraw the maps because of its reputation for fairness.
“The county manager picked a firm that had two attorneys working on the team. One is a Democrat and the other is a Republican,” Davis said.
At the Sept. 20 meeting, county commissioners approved a resolution stating the need to redraw the maps based on the most recent census data. That resolution was approved by a 6-to-1 vote, with Commissioner Fred Belfield casting the lone no vote.
Schauer said that resolution was necessary under state law because of the clear inequities in population between the districts revealed by the last census.
The overall population figures in Nash County did not change much, with the county's 2010 population at 95,840 and the 2020 population at 94,970. However, most of the seven districts in the county had “substantial inequality” under the current district map because of population shifts, Schauer said.
“When we looked at the data associated with the current map, we determined that one or more districts are not within the bounds required by the Equal Protection Clause. In other words, they either are below 95 percent or above 105 percent of the ideal district size,” Schauer said.
Four of the seven districts are either below or above the 5 percent bounds, Schauer said.
District 2, which is represented by Belfield, is currently underpopulated according to the 2020 census numbers, he said. District 5, which is represented by Commissioner Wayne Outlaw, District 3, which is represented by Commissioner Dan Cone and District 6, which is represented by Commissioner Gwen Wilkins, are all overpopulated according to the most recent census data, Schauer said.
“There are certainly grounds to redraw the districts,” he said.
County commissioners discussed the map proposed by the team at the Sept. 20 meeting but also asked to see other options.
Another plan was released Tuesday and has not been formally presented to commissioners, though they have been given individual copies.
The public hearing will be open to the discussion of both proposed maps, Nash County Manager Zee Lamb said Tuesday afternoon in an interview.
Lamb said that the public hearing had been also announced in local newspaper notices over the weekend.
A final vote on the new county district maps could come as early as Wednesday.
“It will be up the county commissioners, based on what happens at the public hearing,” Lamb said. “They can approve one of the maps tomorrow or they can delay the vote until the meeting on Monday. Nash County Elections Director John Kearney has requested that we get the maps to him as soon as possible so he can input them because his office is dealing with so many new maps this year.”
The maps also have to be approved in time for potential candidates to learn which district they are in before the have to file for election or re-election in December. Four of the seven Nash County commissioners will face a possible primary in March and an election in November 2022.
Davis of District 7, Belfield of District 2, Outlaw of District 5 and Wilkins of District 6 all occupy seats that will expire in 2022.
For more information about the current and proposed maps, population data and a link to the Sept. 20 presentation, go to https://www.nashcountync.gov/746/Nash-County-Redistricting.