Justice department approves Hilton Head redistricting plan

tbarton@islandpacket.comMarch 13, 2012 

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Despite its objections, a group of Hilton Head Island residents will remain separated from other native-island communities under a town political redistricting plan recently approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Justice Department did not object to a plan endorsed by Town Council to redraw its wards to account for population growth from 2000 to 2010, the town announced Tuesday.

However, at least one councilman says he is confused about the plan he and the rest of council voted to send for Justice Department approval.

Ward 6 Councilman Ken Heitzke said Tuesday he and Ward 1 Councilman Bill Ferguson believed they voted for -- and council approved a plan -- that would shift the Baygall community from his ward into Ferguson's. According to the map approved by the Justice Department, though, the Baygall area remains within Heitzke's ward.

Perry White of the Baygall Property Owners Association has said the interests native-island community have been lumped with the interests of neighboring Palmetto Hall and Port Royal plantations in Ward 6.

White and others say their community's needs align more closely with other native-island neighborhoods in Ward 1, represented by Ferguson, the council's longest-serving member and lone minority.

"I guess the decision has been made," White said by phone Tuesday. "Where there's a will there's a way, and there wasn't a will to do it."

He declined to comment further.

Heitzke said he has always addressed concerns of native-islander constituents when brought to his attention and will continue to do so.

"The map I saw that we voted on at Town Council had Baygall included in Ward 1," Heitzke said. "That's the way we voted on the darned thing. I really thought Ward 1 would encompass Baygall."

An attempt Tuesday to reach Ferguson for comment was unsuccessful.

Town manager Steve Riley said the approved plan was an effort to shift as many historically native-island communities as possible from Heitzke's ward to Ferguson's ward. The goal was to achieve the maximize number of minorities in the ward to solidify their representation, Riley has said.

The plan approved by the Justice Department increases the percentage of black voters in Ward 1 from about 22 percent to 26 percent, even though the number of blacks in the ward declined in the past 10 years.

Adding Baygall would have forced the town to cut other parts of Ward 1 to reach a population target of about 6,100 people per ward, which Ward 1 exceeded by about 2,000 people. That would have diluted black political representation on the island, town officials have said. It also would have split Ward 6, which violates criteria that districts be contiguous.

Riley said the Justice Department's approval "is a validation of our effort to work with all residents on a fair and legally defensible plan."

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead

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