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Pender Redistricting Expected to Bring Strong Opinions

Original Pender County Redistricting Map under consideration.
Original Pender County Redistricting Map under consideration.

By Megan V. Williams

Wilmington, NC – If last week's public meeting was any indication, Pender County voters aren't shy about telling their Commissioners what they think of the county's redistricting proposal.

At least a hundred people turned out for that meeting, many speaking against plans to change how the county elects its board.

The Board of Commissioners originally passed a controversial voter-redistricting plan at their January 16th meeting, without advertising it on the agenda before hand. Public criticism led the board to reverse themselves a few weeks later and instead bring their proposal to voters at a series of meetings.

Legislation to redistrict the county was introduced in late January by Representative Thomas Wright and has sat in the Committee on Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform since mid-February. No matching bill has been introduced in the Senate.

The original plan would create seven districts, including one intended to be majority African-American. It would also change how Commissioners are elected - from countywide voting to district-based.

An alternative plan crafted by Commissioner George Brown has also been presented, creating a majority black district, but keeping the overall number of districts at five. Brown said he only crafted the maps because it appeared the redistricting plan was moving forward, despite his opposition.

Commissioner Bill Moore, a Democrat, helped generate the original map and argues that electing commissioners by district would tie them closer to their constituents.

"It's hard for somebody like me who lives on the west side to really get a flavor or a feel for how folks are feeling and thinking way down in Topsail Beach or Surf City," Moore said.

Supporters also argue that the plan would increase African American representation on the Board. But Pender County GOP Chairman Bob Mueller says that hasn't been a problem for the county.

"We have had African American commissioners in the [recent] past," Mueller said, questioning whether demographics actually allow the county to concentrate its black voters into one district.

Mueller is urging the board to hold off on any redistricting until new census numbers come out after 2010. With rapid growth in the county, Mueller worries the population data from the 2000 census is already out of date. Moore counters that the five years or so it may take for new numbers is too long to wait.

All of these arguments may be moot for the moment though. Moore himself thinks controversy over how the redistricting plan was introduced has probably doomed the effort at this time.

Pender County Voter Redistricting Public Meeting
Thursday, March 15th -- 7pm
Frances Dawson Basden Judicial Annex
100 South Dickerson Street, Burgaw

January 16th Redistricting Map(.pdf file)

Text of the House bill to redistrict Pender County