Legality question prompts commission to table plan

Published 2:08 am Friday, September 30, 2016

There’s a bit of question about what happens next with the county commission’s request to change the way commissioners are elected, and how district lines will be drawn if they do.

0930-district2-mapEarlier this year, commissioners approved a resolution asking Rep. Mike Jones and Sen. Jimmy Holley to pass legislation changing the election of commission members from at-large voting to district voting. At present, each commissioner runs county wise.

As a next step, the county contracted with the Southeast Regional Planning and Development Commission to redraw its district lines.

“They came back with five plans,” Chairman Bill Godwin said. “The first three plans include dividing the council districts in Andalusia amongst all the districts. Then the next plan is that all city of Andalusia council districts stay intact and they go with a particular county district. One-B sort of tweaked that a little bit. Plan one had Mr. Elmore’s district with 800-1,000 people less than some of the other districts, and when they tweaked it. It brought (the difference) down to 400 or 500. I think one-B would be the plan.”

County Administrator Karen Sowell said there was a little bit of question about whether the county has the right to do this at this time.

“I talked to Sonny Braswell at the Association (of County Commissions) and he said basically that the code section for advertising this we would have to have a local law in place to change district lines,” she said. “ So, I have not found any local law now.”

Godwin said they were just selecting a path and that moving forward would just put the county online so they could have it ready if they need to get legislation.

Sowell asked if they would be advertising.

Godwin said they needed to in order to take comments about the plan.

“I don’t think we can advertise it, if it’s not legal for us to do it,” Commissioner Kenneth Northey said.

Godwin said he believed they could if they were gathering data.

I think we have the data right here,” Commissioner Joe Barton said.

Elmore said he felt they should try to move forward.

Sowell said the county doesn’t vote in single districts and that’s why the law doesn’t apply to them.

“That’s the only issue in question,” she said. “Once we get the change – if Mike Jones proposes it or if voters OK it, then we can. I’m just telling you what I found out from the association. I just wanted to share with y’all that it’s not proper order.”

The commission agreed to table the issue.

Legislation to change the process for electing commissioners could be written one of two ways. It could be a local bill that becomes effective upon passage, or it could require a vote of county residents.