By Scott Robertson
By now you may have heard about the kerfuffle over reapportionment at Monday night’s Washington County Commission meeting. The Reapportionment Committee is charged with redrawing commission district boundaries to create more even representation while shrinking the size of the commission.
The committee had met Nov. 5 and sent a new map to the full commission for its consideration. The deviation between the highest population district and the district with the lowest population was 2.67 percent. The southeast corner of the third district bordered the fourth district at Jim Range Road.
When the commission received the map for consideration Monday night however, the deviation had changed to 2.39 percent and the border between districts three and four had moved south about a mile to Brethren Church Drive.
Commissioner Robbie Tester, who pointed out the discrepancies, offered up a motion to send the reapportionment resolution back to the committee. The commission voted to do just that, 13-12.
So how’d this all happen?
To get the whole picture, you have to go back 14 months to the formation of the Reapportionment Committee. The committee was made of one representative from each of the ten existing districts. Chairman Joe Grandy circulated a survey among all 25 commissioners, seeking their input on how many commissioners would be ideal. The number that came out of that survey was 15.
Seeking to insure the state would have no objections to the reapportionment while avoiding potential accusations that a county-based mapmaker might be biased in some way, Grandy sought staff from the Tennessee Office of the Comptroller to draw the maps.
Grandy then told the entire commission the committee welcomed every commissioner’s input in the process. Multiple drafts of a reapportioned map were circulated among commissioners.
Several commissioners offered input. Grandy told News & Neighbor yesterday morning that Commissioner Tom Krieger asked that the third district border be moved south from Jim Range Road to Brethren Church Drive. That change, Grandy said, was incorporated into a map drawn in September. At its November meeting, however, the committee reverted back to an August map, so that September change disappeared. The map that commissioners considered Monday night was supposed to be the map from August, with only the changes from the November meeting. Yet somehow, the one change from the September map made it onto the page.
In discussing with Grandy and Chris Pape, the county’s GIS expert, how that could have happened, one scenario makes the most sense.
The two representatives from the state comptroller’s office were aware of the requested change on the September map and may have added it into the final draft despite the fact they had not been directly asked to do so following the November meeting.
The theory makes even more sense when one considers the question of why the change in deviation is greater than would happen just from moving the small parcel of land from district three to district four.
“Ned Phillips called from the comptroller’s office the day after the November committee meeting,” Pape told News & Neighbor yesterday morning. “He had found a census block in that map that was surrounded by another district. It was not contiguous with its own district, so they had to fix it. In doing so, they created a windfall for us, dropping the deviation from 2.67 percent to 2.39.”
Of course, conspiracy theorists will speculate whether Grandy somehow rigged the process to get what he wants out of reapportionment, or whether Tester or other commissioners who oppose reapportionment rigged this to happen in order to discredit the process.
I prefer to apply Occam’s razor. The simpler answer is more likely. In this case, there were no grand conspiracies, just a lack of timely communication.
The process so far has taken 14 months. If it takes another 30 days to get it right, that’s a small price to pay.