Editor's note: Holly Springs Patch invited members of the Cherokee County Legislative Delegation to respond to a letter from the head of the agency that accredits Cherokee and other school systems.
In that letter, which the Cherokee County School District made public on Monday afternoon, AdvancEd president and CEO Mark A. Elgart warned state officials .
Hours later, a urging the delegation—Reps. Calvin Hill (R-Canton), Sean Jerguson (R-Holly Springs), Charlice Byrd (R-Woodstock) and Mark Hamilton (R-Cumming), and Sens. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) and Jack Murphy (R-Cumming)—to amend or rescind House Bill 978, which cleared the Georgia House of Representatives on Thursday by a vote of 149-0.
HB 978 would and push out chair Mike Chapman and vice chair Janet Read from their districts. The school board chair would be elected county-wide and school board members would be elected from the posts where they live.
"The election of the Board chair by registered voters in Cherokee County is highly irregular," Elgart wrote.
Hamilton, the sponsor of HB 978, sent the following response to Canton-Sixes Patch editor Rodney Thrash this morning.
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The U.S. Constitution requires each state legislature to redraw all political boundaries no less than once every ten years. Georgia’s General Assembly has been engaged in this effort for the last year.
As a member of both the Cherokee & Forsyth delegations, I believe I have a unique view on this process at the local level. I was recently involved in the Forsyth redistricting effort during the special session in August, and also moving from a “county-wide” system of electing school board members and Commissioners to a “district only” method of elections in 2009. This experience is one reason why I agreed to take the lead in authoring legislation to redraw the Cherokee districts and method of elections.
As we began this process we relied on one simple principle – putting citizens’ interests first.
It is important to note, neither the Board of Education nor Board of Commissioners submitted a unanimous plan for the delegation to consider. Similar to what I would learn from the local citizens, there simply is not uniformity of thought on this process.
We started with a in which viewpoints were expressed and recorded from what seemed to be every interest group. We took note of each alternative and considered it during the process. We also adopted strict rules of redistricting that included making districts based upon communities of interest, compact, and not gerrymandered in any way.
We then appointed a 13-member “Blue Ribbon” Committee that included citizens from all corners of the County to consider the form of the two Boards and the manner of electing them. We specifically included a County PTA official and a number of additional members to represent the interests of the local school system. We offered no guidance to the group other than “do what you think is best for Cherokee County citizens”.
We then commissioned the only County-wide scientific poll of 23,000 Cherokee households.
Finally, we obtained research information from the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Reapportionment office to determine how the other 158 Counties in Georgia constitute their boards.
Upon compiling all this information, we determined the recommendation of the “Blue Ribbon” committee was the path we should follow. Personally I thought that making the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education districts exactly the same was the best method, especially while drawing the maps using the new census. However, the “Blue Ribbon” committee agreed with supporters of the local school board to keep seven school board members, which is what we placed in the bill.
The final piece of this puzzle was to draw the actual districts. The County Commission map was fairly simple since the current Board members are already equally spread across the County. The resulting map contains four distinct and compact districts separating communities of interest.
The School Board districts were more challenging, particularly in the Towne Lake area. Currently three members of the Board of Education live within a 3-mile area of each other centered in Towne Lake. Ten years ago this may have made sense. But with incredible growth in Eastern and Northern Cherokee, it was unrealistic, and possibly illegal, to keep half the school board districts based in one community. Moreover, the law protects elected officials currently serving in the middle of a term. Since population shifts prevented three Towne Lake districts, and the law requires keeping districts for Rick Steiner and Rob Usher, the decision to have two Towne Lake based districts became academic. Again, the interests of the entire County, not justTown Lake, had to come first. I understand one member is upset about this map. Her opposition is curious however; given the fact she supported keeping a County-wide election for Board members. Assuming she still lives in Cherokee County, she has every right to run County-wide for the position of Chairperson.
Ultimately, I am convinced the maps we have drawn meet every criterion we established, plus there is less than 2 percent deviation between all districts in each respective map. They are fair, balanced, compact, and equally distribute representation across the County. In moving to a district based system of elections we have also honored the American tradition of “one man, one vote.”
Representative Mark Hamilton
District 23 - Chairman, Governmental Affairs
218 State Capitol
Atlanta, GA 30334