Bill Fails to Fully Mend Rift in District 5 Lines

WINNSBORO – Although a bill signed by Gov. Nikki Haley on March 4 successfully returned Fairfield County School Board member Bobby Cunningham to District 5, it was confirmed by The Voice last week that the legislation only applied to Cunningham’s school board districting – not his districting regarding County Council.

“I am in District 5 for the School Board,” Cunningham said after receiving his new voter registration card last week, “and District 6 for County Council.”

Following the 2010 census that showed a shift in racial demographics in areas of the county, County Council initiated a federally mandated redistricting process, which it completed in 2011. At that time, Cunningham, then in the middle of his four-year term on the Board, was inexplicably drawn out of District 5 and into District 6. That left the School Board without representation from District 5 and placed two representatives – Cunningham and William Frick – in District 6. Cunningham said he was not made aware of the change until he showed up to vote in the 2012 elections.

In February, State Sen. Creighton Coleman (D-17) and State Rep. MaryGail Douglas (D-41) introduced legislation to put Cunningham back into District 5. When Gov. Haley signed the bill into law, Cunningham and the bill’s sponsors were confident the law applied to both the School Board and County districts, which since the passage of the Home Rule Act of 1975 have traditionally followed one another. But last week, that assumption was proven to be premature.

“County Council has exclusive jurisdiction over drawing their lines,” Coleman said, “so I could only change the School District lines, not the County Council lines.”

The main thrust of the legislation, to ensure the School Board didn’t later come under fire for actions taken without full representation, was successful Coleman said; but making the lines conform to one another would be up to County Council. Phone calls to David Ferguson (District 5), Chairman of County Council, were not returned at press time, so it was not known if Council would indeed be initiating such a change.

Cunningham, meanwhile, said the divergent lines make no sense.

“If I was in District 5 with County Council and the School Board before, why am I in two different districts now for two different offices?” Cunningham asked.

As the bill to return Cunningham to District 5 reached the governor’s desk last month, the entire process that led to him being drawn out came under scrutiny.

When redistricting becomes necessary, 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.”

Last month, Ferguson 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.

If he had known that Cunningham had been drawn out in the middle of his term, “I would have made every effort to get him back in his district,” Ferguson said last month.

It was not known at press time if Ferguson would now make that effort.

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