Beaufort News

Request to better represent blacks' common voting interests on Hilton Head hits snag

A group of Hilton Head native islanders seeking better representation in town government have hit a snag in their request to be included in a different ward as the town redraws boundaries to account for population growth from 2000 to 2010.

Perry White, a member of the Baygall Property Owners Association, said his community has been "engulfed" by the interests of neighboring Palmetto Hall and Port Royal plantations in Ward 6. White and others say their community's interests and needs align more closely with other native island neighborhoods in Ward 1, represented by Bill Ferguson, the council's longest-serving member and lone minority.

Residents of Baygall, a neighborhood centered around the historic Mitchellville area near Barker Field, made the same case when the town last redistricted, in 2001. Boundaries are redrawn every 10 years in response to new census data.

"We still have unpaved roads and people lack sewer access, which need to get higher on the list of priorities," said Baygall POA president Louis Rivers. "The community feels it will have a better chance of having those priorities accomplished with representation in Ward 1."

Doing so, however, would further dilute native islander political representation on the island, said Bobby Bowers, director of the Office of Research and Statistics for the State Budget and Control Board.

A town committee met Monday to consider two scenarios for redrawing ward boundaries. Both meet Justice Department and state parameters, Bowers said.

Both plans call for increasing that percentage of black voters in Ward 1 from 22 to about 26 and 25 percent, even though the number of black people in the ward declined in the past 10 years.

The area has lost native islanders because the cost of living is on the rise and new development has brought more middle- and upper-class, non-native voters to the north end of the island, according to Ferguson, himself a native islander.

Overall, the number of blacks on the island fell 2 percent, while the percentage of whites and Hispanics grew 4 and 51 percent, respectively, census numbers show.

Adding Baygall would force the town to cut out other portions of Ward 1 to reach a population target of about 6,100 people per ward. That likely would lower the percentage of native islanders targeted in both plans, Bowers said.

Currently, Ward 1 exceeds that target by about 2,000 people and is already going to have to cut some folks out into other wards.

White contends the town should include Baygall in Ward 1 to meet provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which makes it illegal to deny minorities equal opportunity to participate in the political process. Bowers counters that the two redistricting scenarios drawn adhere to the federal law.

Ward 6 Councilman Ken Heitzke says he spends much of his time addressing concerns of native islander constituents and will continue to do so, and was taken aback by White's and River's comments

The town will hold a public meeting in August for residents to comment on the two options before council chooses one for U.S. Justice Department review.

Follow staff writer Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.

Related content

  1. Residents influence local redistricting process: June 16, 2011
  2. County Council hears feedback on new redistricting proposals: May 24, 2011
  3. Council makes redistricting choice: May 16, 2001
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