I went to the Steering Committee meeting last night down in Murfreesboro. I must say, their meetings are far more interesting than ours, a lot of that has to do with the varying personalities. The full Commissioner meetings must be fascinating, I have been to only one but I have been considering going to all of them. After all, the bulk of the property taxes we pay go to Rutherford County, and the bulk of THAT money goes to the schools, something we should all pay attention to.
But I digress. The reason I was at the Steering Committee meeting last night was because Commissioner Rhonda Allen was presenting a proposal to establish a new committee to study Road and School Board Zones, which is an issue that has become near and dear to me. During the last meeting of the Redistricting Committee, the recommendation to change the Road and School Board zones was voted down. The sticking point, it seems, was that the issue was moving too fast and was being shoved down everyone’s throats, as was stated at that meeting. To be fair, I can see that.
Luckily, we have Commissioner Allen and also Commissioner Shafer (who also sent in a proposal if I heard correctly but he was not at last night’s meeting) on our side, and they are making good on their promises to not let the issue die. I received a copy of Commissioner Allen’s proposal as well as a map she had drawn up that clearly shows the problem with the zones in La Vergne.
Take a look at this: road and school board zone study committee proposal 2.6.12
Please forgive the wonkiness of that .pdf, my scanner hates me.
The long and the short of the proposal is this- Allen sums up the problem which is that the zones do not respect political boundaries (city limits) and that they do not follow the principles of compactness or contiguity. While these zones are not required by law to be contiguous, it is not ideal by any stretch of the imagination. Her request was that a new committee be appointed to study the Road and School Board Zones, and that it include at least one board member from each: Road Board, School Board, and County Commission; one person who is not an office holder from each of these communities, appointed by their respective Mayors: La Vergne, Eagleville, Smyrna and Murfreesboro; and two citizens from unincorporated areas of Rutherford County who apply and are voted in by the Steering Committee.
The members of the Steering Committee then discussed how they felt that the Redistricting Committee did a really good job of making sure the compactness, contiguity and respect for incumbency was looked at when they worked on County Commission lines. However, they did not do such a good job of doing so when looking at the Road and School Board Zones. Funny, I thought, they didn’t look at them at all, as far as I can tell.
Commissioner Jordan then stated that the fact that there is an island with one of the zones is not illegal. It troubles him, but it is not illegal. He said that they can’t promise anything but that they would look at it pretty soon. And then he stated that he wasn’t sure how he felt about “solving problems I’m not sure is a problem” but he said he would like to see if it could at least be looked at.
Commissioner Allen stated that she wanted to make sure incumbency was respected by ensuring there was a phase-in date, possibly by 2018. That way, there would be enough time. She said she couldn’t see how there was any harm in putting together this committee to study the possibility of redrawing these zones.
Commissioner Stevens then made a motion to establish the committee as outlined by Commissioner Allen. Commissioner Jordan seconded and then discussion ensued. Commissioner Coggin then said that Commissioner Shafer had sent in his own recommendation for the committee, which was similar to Allen’s. He suggested 2 County Commissioners, a Road Board member, a School Board member, representatives from each city voted on by each respective city’s council/board, someone from the Steering Committee and a citizen at large voted in by the Steering Committee.
There then was a discussion about how Commissioner Black had originally suggested adding a Road and a School Board member to the Redistricting Committee. It had apparently been voted down. Everyone seemed sorry that had happened. Commissioner Black stated he likes the idea of putting together a new study committee and that he was intrigued to support it.
There was some more discussion that I missed because Mayor Burgess whispered to a guy behind my that the island problem cannot be solved, not with the way the County Commission districts are laid out. And then 10 seconds later, he said, “Well, I guess you could fix it.” So I missed the first part of what Steve Sandlin was saying, but when I could hear him again, Sandlin stated that he would love to form a committee like this, as long as we sleep on it for a month because, I don’t know.
Then there was a confusing bit, where Sandlin goes back and forth with himself about how the new study committee should be the same as the Redistricting Committee. But no, he doesn’t want to be on it. Commissioner Black looked confused, so I know it wasn’t just me.
I have four pages of notes about the next bit of discussion, but it all boils down to this: Commissioner Sandlin throws all kinds of questions in to confuse the issue, aided by Commissioner Gooch. Allen and Stevens answer them, aided, sort of, by Commissioner Jordan. Commissioner Jordan also did come confusing of the issue, but generally he stayed on track and asked good questions.
Mayor Burgess asked what the name of the Committee would be. Allen stated that she thought the Road-School Board Zone Study Committee would work for the name. Burgess asks what happens if they cannot make a recommendation within the allotted six months. Allen said she didn’t really know, that she had thought of that. Burgess asked if the recommendation was that there was not a recommendation, would that work? She said yes. Which, I’ll be honest, that makes me a little nervous. If there are a whole lot of argumentative people on that committee, that could be a very real possibility.
Then Road Board member Keith Bratcher got to speak. He said he is not in opposition to a study committee, but the Road and School Board zones have different perspectives. He made a very good point that most of these cities, like La Vergne and Smyrna and Murfreesboro take care of their own roads, but in unincorporated areas, the Road Board is all that is in charge of those roads. Schools, however, are in all areas- less so in Murfreesboro who has its own City School District. He said he would like to see the same amount of people from unincorporated areas as from municipalities.
What he said caused two questions in my mind- one, can the Road and School Board zones have different lines? And secondly, what is the amount of population in unincorporated areas compared to those in municipal areas? And does it matter? If there is one representative from Murfreesboro and one from Eagleville, those areas definitely do not compare, population-wise.
They then have a big long conversation about parameters for this committee. Stevens tends toward as few parameters as possible while it sounded like Burgess and Sandlin would have loved to load it up with as many parameters as possible. Sandlin started saying this all needs to be held off until next month. Don’t worry, y’all, I have nothing else better to do next month.
Discussion ensues some more about the parameters, and bringing the Election Commission director in on this. But, Sandlin said, it is an election year and she is very busy, so…. yeah.
Sandlin finally adds an amendment to the motion on the floor (remember that? about 600 words ago?) that the motion is deferred to the next meeting. It passes, with everyone voting yes except Commissioner Stevens. Commissioner Allen asks exactly what she needs to find out before next month. Sandlin told her to go to the Election Commission director and get some guidance from her.
So, this issue is not dead, however, it has been shipped to next month’s meeting. I’ll be there, these meetings are more interesting than television, I tell ya.
See Previous Posts About Redistricting: