Commission hears complaint on district lines

Published 10:49 pm Thursday, July 12, 2018

Ernest Ward, the president of the Troup County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Pat Darden, the chair of the Troup County Democratic Party, approached the Troup County Board of Commissioners Tuesday with concerns about district lines and racial diversity. 

Ward and Darden complained about meeting times, alleged a lack of racial diversity in county departments and questioned whether current district lines were fair. Ward and Darden spoke on similar topics at West Point and Hogansville council meetings in recent months.

Ward said the county’s current 9 a.m. weekday meeting schedule makes them inaccessible to citizens.

“It is one thing to not schedule a meeting that is accessible, and if I don’t come to it, shame on me. If you make it available for me, and I don’t come then the burden is on me, but when you create a time that is not accessible, shame on all of you,” Ward said.

Commissioner Richard English said that at one point the county did have meetings in the evenings and mornings, but the morning meetings typically had much higher attendance.

“I am a working person, so I do feel that pain sometimes about having to rearrange my schedule to come to meetings,” Commission Chairman Patrick Crews said. “… In my almost four years now, I’ve only had one other person make a comment about our meeting time. It has not been expressed to me, the commission chair, that it has ever been an issue for the citizens.”

Crews said after the meeting that the possibility of broadcasting the meetings on social media has been discussed, but no plan is in place to do so yet.  The issue of racial diversity in county departments was also discussed.

“Racial diversity is important to all the departments in the county,” Darden said. “I believe that it is especially important in departments where minority customers must go for service. Courts — for instance — should be diverse. Actually, I believe that every department in the county should have a makeup that is similar to the makeup of the countywide population.”

English recalled how the board of commissioners dealt with the issue of racial diversity in 1978, when he was first elected to office. English said at that time, there was only one African American employee working for the county.

“[African Americans] were one-third of the county, and we did affirmative action,” English said. “If there were three folks working, one must be black. If there are five, two must be black. We did that, and we got sued. … We went to court, and we won the lawsuit.”

According to English, the practice faded away in time.

Finally, Ward alleged that the current districts do not fairly represent the people of Troup County.

“It is unacceptable that when decisions are made that there is no one at the table from West Point or Hogansville,” Ward said. “… The way those district lines are drawn that access does not exist.”

In Troup County, district one covers the entire county and is held by the county commission chairman. District two covers Hogansville and the eastern side of Troup County. District three covers West Point and the western side of the county. District four covers the northern section of LaGrange and a section of the county. District five covers the southern section of LaGrange and a section of the surrounding county.

According to County Manager Tod Tentler, the district lines are redrawn every 10 years following the census, and the districts include within a thousand people of the same number in each district when the lines are drawn. The district lines are expected to be considered again following the 2020 census.

Several commissioners stated both during and following the meeting that they felt regardless of district, it was their duty to serve the entire county.

“I don’t live in West Point, but I don’t think you can say that I don’t care about West Point,” said Commissioner Lewis Davis, who is over district three which includes West Point. “I consistently talk to the city council and the people of West Point. I try to be accessible to everybody. I don’t want anybody to come away from here thinking that we don’t care about our citizens. We care greatly. The color of your skin does not matter to me. I want to help everybody.”

The Troup County Board of Commissioners will meet again on Tuesday at 9 a.m. at 100 Ridley Avenue.