Proposal to eliminate DeKalb commission’s super districts looming

March 7, 2019 - Atlanta -  "It's hard to get anybody to come to the table who already owns the table. Atlanta owns this airport. Some of us may not like it, but they do," said state Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur, who later added: "When we talk about ethics, I don't think our hands are clean in here either."   The Georgia Senate voted Thursday to approve a measure that would give the state control of Hartsfield-Jackson airport. The legislature was in session for "crossover" day, the 28th day of the 2019 General Assembly.   Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

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March 7, 2019 - Atlanta - "It's hard to get anybody to come to the table who already owns the table. Atlanta owns this airport. Some of us may not like it, but they do," said state Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur, who later added: "When we talk about ethics, I don't think our hands are clean in here either." The Georgia Senate voted Thursday to approve a measure that would give the state control of Hartsfield-Jackson airport. The legislature was in session for "crossover" day, the 28th day of the 2019 General Assembly. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Legislators considering new maps that would reshape county government

State legislators from DeKalb could soon introduce maps that would eliminate “super districts” from the county commission.

State Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur, confirmed Wednesday morning that work on such a redistricting proposal — which would significantly reshape DeKalb’s local government — was well underway and “definitely” being considered.

“We’ve had this conversation for a while now, this is not anything new,” Jones told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Given where we are with redistricting and reapportionment and the fact that DeKalb County grew 6% [since the 2010 Census], it only makes sense.”

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For the last two decades or so, the DeKalb County 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.

The super districts overlap with regular districts, providing multiple representatives for every area of the county.

Jones said the proposal that’s under consideration would eliminate super districts and redraw existing lines to create a total of seven smaller districts. The senator said such maps would likely not be unveiled until next week, but vowed that no sitting commissioners would find themselves out of a job or drawn into the same district as a colleague.

DeKalb County commissioners created their own redistricting proposal — which made few substantive changes to existing maps — and submitted it for consideration several weeks ago.

But the power to redraw local districts ultimately lies with the General Assembly.

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond declined to weigh in on the proposal. Lorraine Cochran-Johnson, a current super district commissioner, did not immediately respond to inquiries.

But colleague Ted Terry, who represents the western half of DeKalb, said super districts present the opportunity for commissioners to simultaneously represent the northern and southern ends of the county, fostering more collaboration and bigger-picture thinking.

He also worried about the timing of the proposal.

State officials have asked for new local maps to be in place by Feb. 15 — a little over two weeks from now.

“That’s my biggest concern, is that a lot of people aren’t going to know this is happening,” Terry said. “They’re going to wake up and be confused that they have all new commissioners.”

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District 2 Commissioner Jeff Rader expressed similar concerns and called the idea “hypocritical,” referencing recent Republican efforts to control local redistricting in other areas of Georgia with growing Democratic influence.

“The way that he’s doing it is in the same way [Democrats] have criticized Republicans for doing it in Clarke County or Gwinnett County or otherwise,” Rader said.

Every state legislator and county official representing DeKalb is a Democrat.

Jones, who is the chairman of DeKalb’s delegation to the state Senate, said he is “not working in a vacuum” and has been in “constant dialogue” with fellow senators, as well as counterparts in the county’s contingent in the state House of Representatives.

State Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, is the chair of that delegation. She did not respond to inquiries.

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