Contentious DeKalb redistricting proposal would require a referendum

Credit: Special photo

Credit: Special photo

And such a referendum could not be held this year, legislative counsel says

A state senator’s proposal to reshape DeKalb County’s Board of Commissioners would have to be ratified by voters in a public referendum, according to an opinion from the General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Counsel.

And such a referendum could not be held this year, the office found.

State Rep. Viola Davis, D-Stone Mountain, requested the opinion and distributed its contents via press release on Friday — one day after Sen. Emanuel Jones unveiled his redistricting proposal that would shrink the DeKalb commission’s existing pair of “super districts.”

Each of the super districts covers about half of the county and overlaps with the board’s five regular districts. Jones’ plan would redraw them all to create a total of seven smaller districts.

ExploreLegislator reveals maps that would reshape DeKalb County commission

Some county officials and community advocates raised various concerns about Jones’ plan even before it was officially revealed. They included questioning whether such a reimagining of commission districts would, legally speaking, be considered a change in the way DeKalb’s government leaders are elected.

Under the county’s unique charter, such changes are required to be voted on by the public.

The Office of Legislative Counsel, which offers legal guidance for state legislators, confirmed a vote would be needed in its newly released letter.

It added that such a vote could not be held this year because, under law, it would have to be held either during May’s primary or November’s general election. Both of those dates are after the candidate qualifying period that begins March 7.

Several county commission seats — including one super district — are on this year’s ballot.

Reached Friday afternoon, Jones said he hadn’t seen the legislative counsel’s letter but, if necessary, he would move to hold a referendum in 2023.

That, however, leaves plenty of remaining questions for local redistricting and reapportionment, which by law must take place every 10 years. Redrawn local maps are expected to be submitted to the state by the middle of this month.

While Jones has pushed his proposal, DeKalb County’s delegation to the state House has been discussing redistricting maps put forth by the county commission itself. Those maps make few substantive changes to existing lines.

The House delegation has two public meetings to discuss redistricting scheduled next week:

Jones previously said the Senate delegation planned to hold public meetings as well. Those dates and times have not been announced.