Local legislators must decide several issues in the next weeks that will affect DeKalb County residents for years to come.
The DeKalb House delegation recently approved a new district map for the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners that has been sent to the Senate for approval. Every 10 years local legislators are required to redraw the lines of both the county commission and board of education using the most recent census data.
DeKalb County Commissioner Lee May said the map sent to the Senate was one with amendments by Rep. Mike Jacobs, which five of seven DeKalb County commissioners approved.
“We are standing by the map that we negotiated so I hope that is the map that will eventually come out, but you never know until the vote is done,” May said.
Rep. Howard Mosby, chairman of the House delegation, said he expected redrawing the county commission map would be more contentious than it was.
Additionally, the House delegation failed to meet a self-imposed deadline to redraw the districts for the DeKalb County Board of Education. Members were unable to reach a consensus on a five- or seven-member board.
Complicating the process was SB 79, a bill that passed last year that requires local school boards to have no more than seven members by 2013.
“The school board map was a little bit more complicated because of SB 79. That bill did not include a referendum to allow citizens to vote and none has been forthcoming,” Rep. Simone Bell said.
Bell, who chaired a special committee formed to redraw both the commission and board of education maps, said “we never received anything from the school board after asking many times so we dealt with the particular maps that were before us.”
Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver echoed Bell and said school board members were non-cooperative and invisible throughout the process.
“At no time did they ever come forward in any visible way and in fact refused to return phone calls from the chair. This is unprecedented in my many years involved in reapportionment,” Oliver said.
Some members of the House delegation said more time was needed to come to a consensus on a map and also study how the implementation of SB 79 would impact DeKalb and its residents.
However, Oliver said, Sen. Fran Millar had proposed legislation that would table the implementation of SB 79 until 2014 and allow for a referendum for the residents of DeKalb to vote on the issue.
“I think that delaying the reduction of the board until 2014 has some merit. My idea is to think about that board as a seven-member single district map,” Oliver said.
The bill that Millar proposed suspends SB 79 and delays the implementation of that bill depending on the outcome of a referendum.
“I asked him specifically when he would want to have the referendum and he did not have a specific date, but in my mind if we had it in November we’d get the most people voting on it. I think it offers a compromise and answers some of the questions that people have raised as to whether people in DeKalb County wish to reduce their school board,” Oliver said.
Currently, the House delegation has appointed a special committee to explore what options are available legally to suspend or revise SB 79 for the purpose of creating a referendum.
The DeKalb Senate delegation will now be challenged with tweaking the board of commissioners’ map and resolving the issue of the board of education. Additionally, local senators must also make recommendations on HB 636, a bill proposing the creation of the city of Ashford.
HB 636 originally called for the proposed city to be named Brookhaven but Rep. Ed Lindsay made a last-minute amendment to change the name. The bill, developed by Rep. Jacobs, is expected to hit the House floor within the next few weeks.
If passed, the bill will allow for a cityhood vote during the July primary election.