Local Bill Mends District Lines

Bobby Cunningham, once again District 5 representative on the Fairfield County School Board.

WINNSBORO – After nearly three years of disenfranchisement, District 5 once again has representation on the Fairfield County School Board of Trustees, thanks to a piece of special legislation signed by Gov. Nikki Haley on March 4. The bill (S1002), introduced by Sen. Creighton Coleman (D-17) in the State Senate on Feb. 5 and Rep. MaryGail Douglas (D-41) in the House on Feb. 18, was designed to return School Board member Bobby Cunningham to District 5 after he was drawn out of his district and into District 6 in 2011. The redistricting followed the 2010 census information that showed a shift in racial demographics in areas of the county and was required by federal law.

The process that led to an incumbent being drawn out of his district, however, has come under scrutiny. The State Budget and Control Board (BCB) provides county councils across the state with district maps for their consideration, according to Will Roberts of the BCB’s Office of Research. Residences of incumbents are clearly marked on the maps, Roberts said, “To make sure they don’t get drawn out.”

But Cunningham did get drawn out, leaving District 5 without representation on the School Board and piling two representatives – Cunningham and William Frick – into District 6.

County Council reconfigured the district lines, Roberts said, to meet federal demographic requirements. The new map was then approved by a county ordinance and submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval (approval by the D.O.J. may not be required in future redistricting, since the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, Roberts noted).

Council Chairman David Ferguson (District 5) said he was not aware Cunningham had been drawn out of the district the two men share, nor was he aware of the legislation to return Cunningham to District 5 until the bill had already made it through both houses of the General Assembly. Ferguson also said he was not certain if the homes of incumbents were marked on the map provided to Council by the BCB.

“I’m not sure that they were,” Ferguson said. “That’s not our job. That’s the responsibility of the people who make the decisions in Columbia. They send the maps up here.

“That Board member (Cunningham) did not call me, Creighton Coleman did not call me, MaryGail Douglas did not call me,” Ferguson said. “If they had, I would have gone back to the Budget and Control Board to see what the deal was. They are the professionals who know where the lines go.”

Cunningham said he only found out he was no longer in District 5 when he went to vote in the 2012 elections.

“I knew they had redrawn some lines,” Cunningham said, “but I had no idea it could affect someone in the middle of their term. Why was a sitting official zoned out of their district? Who signed off on it? Was my residence marked on the map? My biggest concern was an incumbent was redistricted and received no notice until they went to vote.”

Debbie Stidham, Director of the Fairfield County Voter Registration Office, said her office mailed out new voter registration cards and notifications to voters whose districts had changed after the 2011 redistricting, even though her office was not required by law to do so, she said. She said she could not explain why Cunningham either failed to receive or overlooked notification.

Coleman said the legislation effects nine people including Cunningham, who now all return to District 5.

“It’s something I wish we didn’t have to do,” Coleman said. “He shouldn’t have been taken out of his district and we shouldn’t have had to go through the hassle of drawing up (the legislation), shepherding it through the General Assembly and having the governor review it and sign it.”

Ferguson said rumors that he intentionally drew out Cunningham were untrue. Kirk Chappell, Ferguson’s opponent in 2000, also saw his district change from 5 to 3 in 2011. Ferguson said that change came at the request of Councilman Mikel Trapp (District 3), who needed to gain minority population in his district and therefore asked to absorb Jackson Creek Road, where Chappell lives, into District 3. Minutes from the Sept. 26, 2011 meeting confirm Ferguson’s recollection of the events and show where Trapp requested the change. Meetings from meetings leading up to the final redistricting ordinance also show where Council had been given clear guidelines by the BCB for redrawing the lines, including a presentation by the BCB’s Wayne Gilbert on Aug. 29, 2011 that included the directive “locate incumbents.” First reading of the ordinance (591) passed that same night, and after a work session on Sept. 7 where it was determined that districts 1 and 7 required the most corrections, second reading then passed on Sept. 12, 2011.

Final reading passed on Sept. 26, 2011 after attorney John Moylan told Council that all the BCB’s guidelines had been met, including “not to pit incumbents against each other – whether they be County Council or School Board members,” minutes from the meeting state.

“Am I sorry it got done like that? I certainly am,” Ferguson said. “Had Mr. Cunningham or anyone called me, I would have made every effort to get him back in his district.”

Now firmly back in District 5 and nearing the end of his four-year term on School Board, Cunningham said he is considering a continuation of his political career.

“I am weighing my options,” Cunningham said.

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