Published 11:19 pm Thursday, July 21, 2011
Proposed redistricting could affect two from School Board
A redistricting plan that would remove two Suffolk School Board members from the districts they currently represent has left at least one of those members surprised and upset at the process.
School Board vice chair Thelma Hinton said she was disappointed to find out on Thursday that the proposed new district boundaries would change the Nansemond borough so radically that both she and City Council member Leroy Bennett would be affected.
The proposed map was presented Wednesday during a City Council meting, after which Bennett said he’d been “blindsided” by the proposal, which had been produced by city staffers.
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“I was disappointed,” Hinton said Thursday afternoon. “Right now, I’m kind of speechless.”
The new lines would also remove School Board member Diane Foster from her Sleepy Hole district. Foster did not return calls on Thursday.
Redistricting is required after every census to accommodate for changes in populations and balance the number of residents in each borough.
The three North Suffolk boroughs — Sleepy Hole, Chuckatuck and Nansemond — each must shrink during the redistricting process, because these areas experienced the most growth since 2001, and the population of all of the city’s seven boroughs must be balanced.
As a result, the shape of Nansemond borough, which Hinton was elected to represent in 2008, would change drastically from its current form.
The borough would take on areas that are now part of Sleepy Hole, and the southern portion of Nansemond would become part of the Cypress borough.
Under the proposed new boundaries, Foster would reside in the Nansemond borough. While the map provided by the city was unclear, Hinton’s home would rest in either the new Suffolk borough or the new Cypress borough.
Hinton said she understands the city needs to accommodate the growth in North Suffolk, but she believes there is a way to complete the redistricting without costing anyone his position.
“I do believe looking at it that we can still maintain our district if they look at plans,” she said.
In addition to changing the borough’s shape, Nansemond would change from having a 60-percent black population to being predominantly white.
Hinton said she believes she could still win the Nansemond School Board seat with a majority of white voters.
“I can come across to both African-Americans and Caucasians,” she said. “I had both vote for me (in the 2008 election).”
Hinton also said she thinks School Board members should have been included in the discussion about redistricting.
“We are elected officials, as well, and I feel when those types of discussions are being done, we should have had some sort of input,” she said. “The school system shouldn’t have been left out of the loop.”
Hinton said she was not told the redistricting could push her out, but she worries the lines were drawn purposefully to cut her and Bennett out of the Nansemond borough.
She said she plans to have a civil rights group look at the lines to check for racially motivated gerrymandering because the plan removes two black representatives from office, she said.
Other than that, Hinton said she is going to listen to what the citizens of Suffolk have to say about the new districts. She plans to attend most of the community meetings on the redistricting.
“I hope citizens will voice their opinions,” she said. “I’m going to sit back and see what the people say.”