It looks like this isn't going to be easy.
Already, trouble is brewing over who deserves a say in the reconfiguring of the districts from which Jasper County school board members are elected.
Leading up to the first of three public meetings about redrawing the districts, Rev. Joseph Darby of the African Methodist Episcopal Church emailed fellow congregation leaders, encouraging them and their congregants to attend the meetings and speak out, even if they do not live in Jasper County. Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Jasper, a member of the Jasper County Legislative Delegation that is charged with updating the districts, agreed with Darby's email -- people who work in or represent others from the county should be allowed to speak during the meetings.
That irked Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, who chairs the delegation. It also bothered some Jasper County residents who attended the first meeting. "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?" one resident asked.
In the end, the more than 15 people who spoke at the meeting all lived in the county, according to the attendance sheet.
Two more meetings are scheduled, one Nov. 5 and the other Nov. 12. At these events, anyone desiring to give input should be allowed to do so. After all, scenarios certainly exist where someone may live in a neighboring county but be interested in proposed changes to the school board, such as a parent who only has part-time custody of their child who attends a Jasper County school, an employer who hires graduates from the district or a friend of an ill Jasper County resident charged with speaking on the resident's behalf.
But speakers who live outside the district must make the fact that they live elsewhere known and should explain why they're attending the meeting. That is only fair and the only way to mitigate the concerns of county residents. Herbkersman appears amenable to the approach, saying he would have allowed anyone from outside the county to speak at the first meeting, but would have made delegation members aware that the person was not a resident.
Bigger picture, we'd encourage all involved to limit their bickering and keep their shared, overarching goals in mind. For 15 years, the district lines have remained unchanged, denying many taxpaying citizens their fair say. Census data shows that the population now deviates by as much as 62 percent between the largest and smallest districts. Residents in the smaller districts are getting a super-sized say in how the board works while those in the larger districts are being minimized. This isn't representative government, and it's a shame a federal judge had to intervene to force the long overdue redrawing process.
It's time for solutions that restore the rightful balance of power to the people. The focus must remain on this goal or else this is going to be an unnecessarily painful process for all stakeholders.