SNOW HILL– Officials approved revised commissioner districts following a public hearing this week.
The Worcester County Commissioners voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve revised district maps. The maps were adjusted following the release of the latest U.S. Census data, as districts are meant to maintain equal populations.
“We started this process last spring,” said Jennifer Keener, the county’s director of development review and permitting.
For months, county staff have been working on the redistricting process, which involves reviewing Census data and using software to come up with new district maps. The most recent Census found that the county’s population was 52,607, an increase of 1,059 residents (2%) since the 2010 Census.
County staff used software to develop new maps based on the population changes. A four-week public comment period regarding the maps resulted in 11 comments, Keener told the commissioners last month. She said that two of them pertained to the actual maps while nine pertained to the timing. Worcester County Board of Elections representatives previously voiced concerns regarding the timing of the process.
The fact that there is a Feb. 9 filing deadline for candidates running for seats on the Worcester County Board of Education worried election officials. They said candidates needed to know for sure which district they were in before they could file.
With those concerns in mind, the commissioners introduced an emergency bill—which goes into effect immediately as opposed to 45 days after passage—to revise the districts. The goal, according to the bill, is to strive for a population of 7,515 people in each of the seven commissioner districts while maintaining a majority minority district and in maintaining the current boundaries as much as feasible.
“What you have in your packet today is a county bill that replaces section 2-102, defines the new commissioner districts as well as appendix I which has the maps by census block listed,” Keener told the commissioners this week. “This was done in response to revised Plan A, based on the feedback we received in the public hearing process.”
During Tuesday’s public hearing on the proposed districts, just one citizen spoke. Snow Hill resident Kathryn Culbertson said she felt the public hadn’t had adequate opportunity to review the revised districts.
“I don’t feel this process has involved the public at the length it needed to,” Culbertson said.
Keener said that the county had released drafts of the updated district maps in September.
“Those maps were available, interactive, on our website,” she said. “A public hearing was held on Oct. 17 and public hearing comments were open for four weeks.”
She said the county did not receive any calls or requests for individual maps but the maps were posted online for those who wanted to see them.
Culbertson said that there were 11 public comments submitted in the not even 30-day period that the county accepted public comment. She added that the “ridiculously short period of time” during which comments were accepted, many people were busy.
“That’s a very difficult and busy time of year for all of us in town, whether we have children, full-time jobs, part-time jobs, whatever,” she said.
Culbertson said it seemed like the redistricting was being pushed through.
“Yes, maybe the information was available to the commissioners but as much as I looked for it both publicly and on the website I still couldn’t find it until after Thanksgiving on the county website and I had to dig through the November (meeting) package in order to find the link to the website,” she said.
The commissioners made no further comments and voted 7-0 to approve the revised maps.