Comission approves new districts, minus inmates

Published 7:44 am Sunday, February 3, 2002

By By Robert Blankenship, Staff Writer
The Escambia County Commission wasted little time in setting up and approving a new set of district lines excluding the county's inmate population.
During a meeting Monday, the commission voted to withdraw its formerly-proposed districts from the Department of Justice where it was waiting for approval. The commission also voted at that time to draw new districts that exclude the inmates at Holman, J.O. Davis and Fountain prisons as well as those housed at a work release facility. The votes came after receiving an opinion from the Alabama Attorney General's office that counties had the right to decide whether they should count inmates.
After traveling to Montgomery on Tuesday to utilize software designed to help draw districts, the commissioners returned Wednesday morning. The commissioners opted to go into recess at the end of Monday's meeting with intentions of resuming it on Wednesday to discuss the districts.
When they returned, the commissioners each expressed their satisfaction in the new lines and voted to approve them. The new lines were passed by a unanimous vote.
Commission Chairman Larry White said excluding the inmates allowed the commission to draw the district lines very similar to the lines that had been present for the past 10 years.
"Excluding the inmates resulted in being able to actually draw lines similar to those of the original plan," White said. "We only needed to make minor changes to acquire acceptable ranges (in each district)."
Taking out the inmate population resulted in a 2,476 difference in the population of the county. The commissioners said forming the new lines became easier when they learned of an oversight on the U.S. Census regarding the inmate population of the county.
"The census reported that there were 3,017 inmates in the county," County Administrator Tony Sanks said. "But, many of those inmates were to be transported to other facilities. The actual inmate population is 2,476."
Learning the actual inmate count made a big difference in the changes needed to meet proper district populations. Commissioner Junior Hall, said he feared he would lose much of the population in District 3 to District 4, held by White. The new inmate count relieved him.
"It looked like I was going to have to give up about half of my district. But, we found the discrepancy and I'm very pleased with the outcome," Hall said.
Hall, who had voted against withdrawing the proposed districts on Monday, made the first motion to pass the new proposal on Wednesday. He was seconded by District 2 Commissioner Todd Williamson.
Williamson did have to surrender a small portion of his district to District 1, which is held by David Stokes.
"I didn't want to give up anybody," Williamson said. "But, I made the exchange to make the numbers work out."
The "exchange" was that of areas near Petty Road and Silver Lane north of Brewton.
Each district was composed using an optimal population of 7,180. Each district is allowed a five percent, up or down, discrepancy from that number. District 1 has a total population of 6,843 (4,69 percent low); District 2's population is 7,327 (2.05 percent high); District 3 has a population of 7,280 (1.39 percent high); District 4's population is 7,489 (4.30 percent high) and District 5 has a population of 6,957 (3.11 percent low).
The new plan will now be submitted to the Department of Justice which will review the districts to verify that it meets the "one man, one vote" rule as required by the federal government.

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