DeKalb officials, advocates push back on senator’s redistricting idea

Credit: Jason Getz / AJC

Credit: Jason Getz / AJC

DeKalb County’s delegation to the state House of Representatives has scheduled a series of public meetings to discuss local redistricting.

A press release said DeKalb’s county commission will present the new maps it created during the initial meeting, scheduled for noon Wednesday. Those maps (which can be seen in full at the bottom of this article) make few significant changes to existing district lines.

But the upcoming discussions will take place as state Sen. Emanuel Jones leads work on a separate redistricting proposal that would significantly alter the shape of DeKalb’s local government.

For the last 30 years or so, the DeKalb Board of Commissioners has consisted of seven members: five district commissioners who each represent about one-fifth of the county, and two “super district” commissioners who each represent roughly one half of the county.

Super Districts 6 and 7 cover the western and eastern halves of the county, respectively, and overlap with regular districts, providing multiple representatives for every area of the county.

Jones, D-Decatur, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that he was working on a proposal that would eliminate super districts and redraw commission maps to include seven smaller districts. The status of that effort was not immediately clear Tuesday morning, but Jones previously said he would reveal his maps sometime this week.

The potential proposal has already raised some concerns.

On Tuesday, District 2 Commissioner Jeff Rader introduced a resolution supporting the maps submitted by the commission, saying that “changing the structure to eliminate super districts carries unforeseen consequences better considered through” a charter review commission.

Such a commission was created in 2019 but has lain dormant since, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond has not appointed a chairperson. (A county official said Tuesday that Thurmond was “in final discussions” with a candidate for that position.)

In a press release regarding Rader’s redistricting resolution, current Super District Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson expressed support for super districts and the commission’s proposed maps. She said she’s not opposed to redrawing district lines — if and when more public input is considered.

“My only concern is the ability to engage the people of DeKalb on an alternative district plan when no formal maps eliminating super districts have been presented at this time,” Cochran-Johnson said.

Ted Terry, the county’s other super district commissioner, has expressed similar concerns. So has Mary Hinkel, chair of the DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council.

Hinkel said this week her group was “alarmed and mystified” by the lack of transparency.

Jones’ proposal “would eliminate super districts with little, if any, public discussion,” Hinkel wrote in an open letter sent to legislators and commissioners. “This is extremely disturbing.”

Ed Williams, leader of the local watchdog group Concerned Citizens for Effective Government, went a step further. He argued that eliminating super districts would leave all DeKalb residents with one representative on the commission instead of two — which would constitute a change of government significant enough to require a public referendum.

DEKALB HOUSE DELEGATION REDISTRICTING PUBLIC HEARINGS