Bell pushing redistricting thru

Victor Frontroth, a cartographer with S.C. Revenue and Fiscal Affairs, presented information to council concerning its redistricting effort. | Photo: Fairfield County Council

Pauley: Mr. Bell’s Decisions Not In Best Interest of County

WINNSBORO – Redistricting is an inherently political process, and that reality was on full display at Monday night’s Fairfield County Council meeting.

After passing first reading of an ordinance adopting a redistricting plan by a 5-2 vote Thursday night, council members passed second reading of the ordinance Monday night with the same 5-2 vote. Council members Doug Pauley and Clarence Gilbert opposed.

No public discussion or public forums on the redistricting plan have been held prior to Monday night’s meeting, which drove complaints over the lack of transparency and personal politics.

Pauley accused Chairman Moses Bell of unilaterally submitting the draft redistrict plan without informing council members or the public.

“It goes to show Mr. Bell has excluded council from making decisions that are in the best interests of all Fairfield County citizens,” Pauley said.

Bell insisted he followed all state and federal guidelines. He also noted the public will have a chance to offer feedback sometime before the final vote.

“We will have an opportunity for public input and if we need to have another meeting, we can do that,” he said.

The exchange came following a presentation from the S.C. Revenue and Fiscal Affairs office.

Victor Frontroth, a cartographer with the agency, said repeatedly that feedback from council members and the public is crucial to every redistricting plan.

“Public input is a very important part of this entire process,” Frontroth said, adding that a public hearing is required before third reading.

Federal law requires local governments to redraw district lines every 10 years to compensate for population shifts. The goal is to maintain fair and equal representation.

In Fairfield County, census data shows that total population plummeted 12.56%, from 23,956 to 20,948. Council districts 2 and 7 saw the greatest shifts, with District 2, represented by Councilwoman Shirley Greene, growing 7.1% and District 7, represented by Gilbert, shrinking 8.7%.

Frontroth explained that federal law requires no more than a 5% population shift in either direction. Ideally, he said one-way deviation shouldn’t exceed 2.5%.

The proposed plan features a combined deviation of about 6%, Frontroth said.

It didn’t take long, though, for Bell’s plan to come under attack, with many citing concerns over lack of transparency.

“The map that was presented to you, where did that map come from?” Pauley asked Frontroth.

“That was from working with Chairman Bell,” Frontroth answered.

“Wouldn’t you agree to have seven council members, that every council member should have a say in that draft?” Pauley asked.

“We were under the impression that every council member was aware,” Frontroth replied.

“They were not,” Pauley responded.

“They were not,” Councilman Gilbert echoed.

Bell continued to defend his handling of the redistricting plan.

“Does the map meet the constitutional requirements?” Bell asked Frontroth

“As far as I see, yes,” Frontroth answered.

Bell’s assurances did little to sway angry residents, who voiced frustration over being shut out of the redistricting process.

District 4 resident John Jones said the county website is vir tually devoid of any maps or detailed redistricting plans.

Jones feared the council majority’s endgame was gerrymandering, the manipulation of district boundaries to give one or more council members an unfair electoral edge.

“That’s not right, that’s not ethical,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of lawsuits that say that’s not smart. Please don’t do that.”

Ridgeway resident Randy Bright said the lack of transparency over redistricting is indicative of the secrecy that surrounded budget talks, employee bonuses and other recent measures.

“Let’s be transparent for the first time this year,” Bright said. “This would be a great Christmas present if you were transparent with redistricting.”

When Frontroth explained that the maps another information would eventually be on the county’s website, Bright raised his hand to ask a question of Frontroth, but Bell shut him down. Bright went ahead and asked as Bell protested.

“Since Fairfield is an internet desert, how are you going to get this information out to the people?” Bright asked.

“No! No! Don’t answer that, Mr. Frontroth!” Bell shouted to the presenter. Councilman Mikel Trapp leaned over to whisper something to Bell who then turned to a nearby sheriff’s deputy and ordered him to eject Bright from the meeting. Bell also had a citizen sitting near Bright ejected as well.

As the two were escorted out, Gilbert offered a consoling comment to the two, “Council doesn’t have any input, either.”

After the vote, Pauley called upon Bell to reinstitute the second public comment session, which was eliminated in March 2020.

In addition, Pauley said meeting agendas should be published earlier than the Friday immediately preceding Monday meetings. He said that would give council members more time to prepare for meetings and residents more advance notice of council business.

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