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No consensus among ACC commissioners on redistricting

Rep. Spencer Frye

Athens-Clarke County Commissioners failed to reach consensus on another proposed map of local commission districts at a special called meeting last night. On the table for consideration was a so-called “compromise map” prepared by the county’s sole Democratic member of the Georgia General Assembly, Rep. Spencer Frye.

Frye released his proposed map of districts earlier this week after his Republican colleagues in the state legislature proposed a map of their own which, if passed, would radically alter the county’s ten commission districts.

Frye’s map was approved by a majority of commissioners - only two of the ten voted against it – but even that supermajority of votes is not enough to move the proposal forward. Members of the county’s delegation to the General Assembly are responsible for actually introducing a map to state lawmakers for final approval, and the four Republican members of the county’s delegation have told commissioners that unless all ten commissioners agree on a map, the state legislators would not introduce it for consideration in Atlanta.

Instead, it seems likely that those four GOP state lawmakers, Senators Bill Cowsert and Frank Ginn and Representatives Houston Gaines and Marcus Wiedower, will introduce their own proposed map, which they released to the public on January 6th. Many commissioners and ACC residents have expressed outrage with the GOP-drawn map, which would draw three incumbent commissioners out of their districts, split up parts of majority-Black east Athens into multiple districts, and change districts for an estimated 67 percent of Athens-Clarke County voters. Supporters of the GOP proposal say it makes the county’s districts more geographically compact and creates four so-called “minority opportunity districts.”

Frye says his map, which commissioners considered on Thursday, would do the same things as the GOP map, without disqualifying three commissioners from running for re-election.

Credit ACC Government
District 10's Mike Hamby voted no on Frye's proposal, but remained otherwise silent throughout Thursday's meeting.

At Thursday’s meeting, Commissioners Mike Hamby and Allison Wright voted against Frye’s proposal. Hamby and Wright also voted against a locally-drawn map produced by the county’s Board of Elections last year. Commissioner Ovita Thornton abstained on the vote last year.

On Thursday she voted for Frye’s plan but later asked to have her vote changed to an abstention, a move not allowed. Alluding to criticism she has received from colleagues and residents since the vote on the locally-produced map last month, Thornton defended her abstention, saying, “My abstention wasn’t a personal attack on anyone.”

She also pushed back against the idea that the three commissioners who would be drawn out of their districts under the GOP-proposed map – Melissa Link, Tim Denson, and Russell Edwards – were “victims.” “Those of us who voted, either abstention or noes, we became victims also,” Thornton said.

In discussing Frye’s map, District 4 Commissioner Allison Wright, who voted no on the proposal, reminded colleagues that even if they had unanimous approval of a map, it wouldn’t necessarily be adopted. “History has also shown us that when a map comes out of the local delegation unanimously supported like it was [in the last redistricting period], that also does not mean that that map is accepted,” Wright said.

District 8’s Carol Myers expressed her hope that commissioners would be able to find consensus, and cited public input, which she said was overwhelmingly in favor of Frye’s proposal. “There’s over 250 comments that we received today that were in favor of Representative Frye’s maps, and I believe there were three that were either lukewarm or against,” Myers said.

The county’s Elections Director, Charlotte Sosebee also told commissioners that Frye’s map had the potential to be less complicated for the county’s elections workers to work with, and could reduce the possibility of confusion and errors in upcoming elections.

After the Frye proposal was voted on, commissioners began to consider a motion by Thornton to ask Frye and the four Republican state lawmakers to meet and craft another compromise map. Before that motion could be voted on, however, a visibly angry Commissioner Russell Edwards called for an adjournment, calling the two no votes on Frye’s map a “vote of no confidence” in him, Link, and Denson. “I think we’d better just adjourn the meeting and have a little time to cool off, Mr. Mayor,” Edwards said.

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