Chatham Commission, School Board redistricting maps certified; await vote from Legislature

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Chatham County's proposed redistricting maps for both the Chatham Commission and the Savannah-Chatham School Board have been sent to the Georgia General Assembly, the final step in the once-per-decade county redistricting process.

According to MPC Executive Director Melanie Wilson, the maps can be officially enacted with a vote of the Georgia Legislature. The state's Office of Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment has already approved the maps.

Members of the Chatham County Commission and Savannah-Chatham School Board have approved the maps and requested state legislation be drafted to put them into law.

Wilson says these are likely the final iteration of the maps.

"If you make any changes, you've got to start over, basically," Wilson said.

The Metropolitan Planning Commission's proposed new boundaries for the Chatham County Commission and the Savannah-Chatham County School Board.
The Metropolitan Planning Commission's proposed new boundaries for the Chatham County Commission and the Savannah-Chatham County School Board.

Previous reporting: Chatham County redistricting has started. Here are the proposed maps.

Redistricting comes with a sense of urgency: The Legislature must take action on the new maps soon in order for adjustments to be made ahead of the School Board elections this May. Five posts are scheduled to be on the ballot.

According to the chairman of the Chatham legislative delegation, Georgia House Rep. Ron Stephens, the maps need to pass his chamber "by the first week in February" to be adopted in time for the May election cycle. If a vote on the maps is not made in time, the School Board elections would proceed but districts would be based on the old districts.

'The most political activity in America': Georgia's redistricting slated for this year

Just like with Georgia legislative and U.S. congressional maps, Chatham County Commission’s district lines, intertwined with Savannah-Chatham County School Board’s district lines, are redrawn every 10 years using data from the U.S. Census. Unlike the state, it’s not a partisan process, and lawmakers aren’t the ones drawing the maps. The task is led by the Wilson and the Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission.

Wilson says she's not interested in the partisan power plays that mark the state and federal redistricting processes. She just wants the numbers to balance out.

"This isn't done based on race. It's based on the number of people in the district, and it's not based on how many Republicans or Democrats or Independents there are. I don't really care about that at all," Wilson said. "It's based on numbers."

The eight districts are split evenly by population. Chatham County has a population of 295,291, setting the population goal of each district to 36,911.

The MPC uses a computer program to process the geographic population changes in the census data and revise the district boundaries. The staff compares the software-generated lines to the current boundaries, changing as little as possible. The goal is to create districts with common sense lines - no jutting or jagged edges.

Chatham delegation: 2022 Georgia legislative session could be quick, but explosive

It's not a simple process, and even with a third-party, there are bound to be politicians upset about something on the maps, Wilson said. She even adopted a catchphrase.

"My tagline for doing this is: Everybody's got to give up something," Wilson said.

This time around, west Chatham presented a difficult challenge. The area is the fastest growing in the county over the last 10 years, according to Census data.

District 8, which includes Pooler's Godley Station neighborhoods as well as the Savannah Highlands subdivisions off Benton Boulevard, saw its population swell by 9,861 new residents in the last decade, necessitating major district boundary changes. The growth pushed Port Wentworth from District 8 into District 3.

District 8 will also lose the residents who live in the area south of Interstate 16 and north of Georgia 17 to District 5, as well as those who live in neighborhoods along Jimmy DeLoach Parkway to District 7.

The process isn't over, but it's close.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Chatham Commission, school board redistricting is almost complete

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