Before meetings to redraw Jasper County's unconstitutional school board districts could even get underway Wednesday, efforts to undermine the process were brewing, several elected officials say.
S.C. Rep. Bill Herbkersman, who chairs the Jasper County Legislative Delegation charged with updating the districts, said an email had circulated asking people from outside the county to attend and speak at meetings to discuss new district lines.
Three public hearings have been scheduled, the first on Wednesday, to gather feedback on several districting options. In September, a federal judge called off November elections until new lines could be drawn, ruling that the current districts violate residents' voting rights.
The current districts have not been updated for more than 15 years. Based on the most recent census data, the population deviates by as much as 62 percent between the largest and smallest districts in the county.
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"It is just reprehensible and very frustrating that we are trying to fix a system that is broken and out of balance," said Herbkersman, R-Bluffton. "But before we can even get started, there is something like this happening to undercut those efforts and the voices of people in the county."
He was referring to an email sent Oct. 22 by the Rev. Joseph Darby of the African Methodist Episcopal Church to fellow congregation leaders in the Lowcountry. In the email, Darby tells recipients to share the meeting information with their membership and "urge folks to show up" and "speak out."
Darby further says, "This is especially true for the Jasper County Churches, but I've sent this to all of you, since those present won't know whether the black folks sitting in the audience are from Jasper County or not!"
The pastor said Tuesday that the email was not meant to sway the drawings of the new districts, but he believes the new districts are much needed and the process to produce them is fair.
"Those who know my sense of humor know exactly what I meant, which is that those who have an interest in Jasper County, even if they do not live there, should be able to give input," Darby said.
State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, also a member of the delegation, said he agrees with Darby. He thinks people who work in or represent others from the county, such as clergymen and women, should be allowed to speak during the meetings.
But many at Wednesday night's meeting did not feel that way.
"We don't let people from outside the county vote here, so why would we let them speak and give their input on these plans that don't affect them?" county resident Kelly Champlin asked.
Current school board member Tedd Moyd echoed her thoughts, as did others in the audience who applauded when she spoke.
All who spoke at the meeting -- more than 15 people -- were county residents, according to a sign-up sheet that asked attendees to list their address. Herbkersman said he doesn't think he would have prevented someone from outside the county from speaking, but would have made delegation members aware that the person was not a resident.
A majority of those who spoke favored a plan that would reduce the number of districts from nine to seven and provided a less than 1 percent deviation between the largest and smallest districts. Several others, including current board chairwoman Berty Riley, supported keeping nine single-member districts.
After gathering input from residents during the meetings, the legislative delegation hopes it can agree on a plan and then pass it quickly through the General Assembly once session reconvenes in January.
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.
- Judge calls off Jasper County school board elections in November , September 9, 2014
- ACLU sues Jasper County schools, alleges improper school board districts: Civil liberties group says current districts lack population balance, undermining right to vote , June 25, 2014
- Plan to redraw districts for Jasper County school board opposed , May 18, 2014
- Jasper County school board member Hamilton-Clark resigns , September 18, 2014