COLUMBUS — Controversy erupted at the Cherokee County Commission Meeting as commissioners considered a redistricting plan which forced one commission candidate into a different district than the one in which he's currently running.
Fred Low, a Democrat, is currently running against Commission Chairman Richard Hilderbrand, a Republican, for the District 3 seat, but lives in the Spring Valley township area which is now in fellow Democrat Commissioner Jack Garner's second district.
Low maintained the redistricting was political in nature during the public hearing, insisting the new lines had been drawn in order to keep him from running against Hilderbrand.
"Why didn't you wait until after the elections?" Low asked during the public hearing prior to the passage of the plan.
Cherokee County Republican Party Chairwoman Lorie Johnson, also seated in the audience responded to Low.
"Do you not realize if we wait until after the election people would be voting for people who would not be representing them?" she asked.
Hilderbrand likewise said the redistricting was in no way political.
"This was not done because of where you live, regardless of what the county clerk is telling you," Hilderbrand said.
Hilderbrand insisted the redistricting was necessary because it is required by state law after each census. Hilderbrand said the issue was brought to their attention by County Clerk Crystal Gatewood, who was not in attendance, nearly a year ago.
The county received final census figures about two weeks ago, Hilderbrand said, at which time the commission directed County Counselor Kevin Cure to finalize the redistricting plan.
Hilderbrand asked several times if anyone had an alternative redistricting map they'd like considered. After no one spoke up, Hilderbrand called for a motion to accept the new map.
District One Commissioner Pat Collins moved to approve the map saying, "Because of state law I'll make that motion."
Garner seconded and the motion carried unanimously.
The changes were precipitated by a heavy population imbalance between the three districts.
Prior to the approval of the new map district one had a population of 6,372, District Two 5,239 and District Three 7,674.
The new map makes no changes to District One, increases the population of District Two by more than 1,000 to 6,317 and decreases District Three to 6,596.
In a private interview after the meeting Gatewood maintained she did not bring the matter of redistricting to the commission's attention but was asked about the possibility of redistricting by Hilderbrand after she informed the commission that state and federal congressional districts would be redistricted following the census.
Gatewood maintained the redistricting should have either been done three years ago or after at the first organizational meeting of the year. Failing that, she said, it would have been better to have the new maps take affect in 2013, after the elections.
Additionally Gatewood said, she cannot change where voters are located in her files because they have been locked since the first of the year.
Asked to respond, Hilderbrand none of that was true.
He said Gatewood informed the commission that redistricting was required.
He also took issue with the claim Gatewood could not adjust voter districts at this date.
"If that was true then how are the Senate and House still changing their districts?" he asked.
Hilderbrand said he was disappointed in the fact Gatewood was not at the meeting.
"It's very unfortunate she chose to do things outside of an open meeting," he said. "She had the opportunity to be at the meeting which was her duty.
"Her input should have been done in an open meeting, not behind closed doors."