District lines for the commission (and other electoral jurisdictions that have experienced substantial growth) usually are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population changes. Unfortunately, the redistricting process usually comes down to bare-knuckle politics, and so it was this year. None of the maps proposed for the county commission districts was passed by both the House and Senate, as required, and so the session ended with the districts, and county, left in limbo.
The version passed by the House went off track in the Senate because Sen. Steve Thompson (D-Austell), thought it would gut the Southwest Cobb Commission District represented by his brother, Woody Thompson. Many observers strongly suspected that Sen. Thompson had crossed party lines to vote in support of a charter-school bill strongly desired by Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) in exchange for Rogers’ agreement to stall the redistricting map that Thompson disliked, but both deny that was the case.
Regardless, the session ended with no new map in place, and with the May 24 qualifying deadline for the July 31 elections looming. The county is looking at possibly having to hold a later special election at a cost of at least $200,000 if a new map is not quickly approved. Or, according to the state attorney general’s office, the county could continue to operate under the current district map (but without any elections) until the Legislature meets next winter, at which time a new map would hopefully be approved.
So a Marietta attorney, Jonathan Crumly Sr., filed a lawsuit in hopes of getting a federal judge to step in and redraw the lines so that they will adhere to the constitutional “one man, one vote” guideline. U.S. District Court Judge Steve Jones quickly came up with a map that, for the most part, the commissioners found suitable. The only change asked by the commissioners is that the lines be moved so that the Town Center area, including Kennesaw State University and McCollum Airport, are represented jointly by Commissioners Helen Goreham and JoAnn Birrell, rather than being shifted entirely from Goreham’s district to Birrell’s, as the judge’s first map would do.
Judge Jones was expected to issue his final version of the map by today. If that happens as expected, it might not only let Cobb taxpayers dodge the cost of a special election, but be an object lesson of how straightforward redistricting can be if politics is taken out of the equation and the lines are drawn, as the judge is doing, by holding changes to a minimum and taking politics out of the equation.