Legislator reveals maps that would reshape DeKalb County commission

Credit: Jason Getz / AJC

Credit: Jason Getz / AJC

State Sen. Emanuel Jones officially unveiled Thursday a redistricting proposal that would significantly alter the shape of DeKalb County’s local government.

It’s a proposal that, even before details were released, had raised the hackles of some county officials and community advocates. But Jones, D-Decatur, said the time is right to reimagine a decades-old structure for DeKalb’s Board of Commissioners.

“What’s drawn is equal member districts, the same government that all the other counties have in this metropolitan area,” Jones said Thursday. “We didn’t change anybody, we didn’t eliminate, we didn’t add anybody, we simply reapportioned. That’s all.”

ExploreDeKalb officials, advocates push back on senator's redistricting idea

Since the early 1990s, the DeKalb commission has consisted of five regular districts that split up the county, plus two larger “super districts.” Each super district covers about half of the county and overlaps with several regular districts.

The unique format results in each DeKalb voter being represented by two commissioners.

Jones’ new maps — which were released after a closed-door meeting with his fellow senators — would shrink the super districts and redraw others to create a commission with a total of seven more standard districts. Each commissioner would represent about 109,000 residents.

Jones, a 17-year veteran of the General Assembly and chair of DeKalb’s state Senate delegation, said his proposal has no nefarious motivation and is about using the once-in-a-decade redistricting opportunity to try and provide better service to constituents.

No sitting commissioners would be drawn out of their district or forced into the same one as a colleague, he said.

“It is much better to have smaller districts with a [single] commissioner,” Jones said.

Others aren’t so sure.

While the ultimate authority for redistricting lies with the General Assembly, the DeKalb County commission has submitted its own proposed maps for consideration. They make few substantive changes to current districts.

Several commissioners — including Jeff Rader and current super district Commissioners Lorraine Cochran-Johnson and Ted Terry — have expressed opposition to rethinking super districts since The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported on the basics of Jones’ proposal last week.

Prominent community activists have also shown concern, both about the overall concept and the way it’s being handled. New local maps are due to be finished by the middle of this month and candidate qualifying for the commission races on this year’s ballot begins March 7.

Ed Williams, the leader of advocacy group Concerned Citizens for Effective Government, has suggested that Jones’ proposal represents a change in DeKalb’s form of government and, under the county charter, would require a public referendum.

The senator called that a consideration for The Office of Legislative Counsel.

“If they so state, then that’s what will be done,” he said.

Separate redistricting discussions, meanwhile, have also begun in DeKalb’s delegation to the state House of Representatives.

That delegation, chaired by Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, discussed the maps submitted by the county commission during a Wednesday afternoon meeting. Drenner alluded to Jones’ then-still-to-be-seen maps during that meeting but did not directly express support or opposition.

Jones, meanwhile, said he wouldn’t be going public with his maps if he didn’t have enough support among Senate colleagues to move forward — and that he hopes the House, county officials and DeKalb residents will sign on too.

He plans to hold a series of public meetings next week.

“I would ask the public to review what’s been displayed here before making an informed decision,” Jones said, “rather than just acting off of emotions.”