The Sumner County Commission voted 16 to 8 in November to double the number of county commission districts from 12 to 24. However, the total number of commissioners will remain the same, meaning each district will have one elected official instead of two.
It’s the first major change of the legislative body in more than 50 years.
The vote on Nov. 15 culminated the county’s redistricting process – a requirement of legislative bodies every 10 years following a federal census in order to make sure citizens receive equal political representation.
Sumner County’s population grew by about 20 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to recent U.S. Census data. At 196,281 residents, Sumner is the state’s eighth largest county.
Following several meetings of a county redistricting committee, the full County Commission considered two maps recommended by the county’s Legislative Committee – one with 12 districts and another with 24.
As he indicated during the Legislative Committee meeting a week earlier, District 9 Commissioner Jerry Becker asked to make some changes to the 24-district map.
County Commission Chairman Scott Langford said that since a CTAS consultant charged with drawing the lines wasn’t at the meeting, redrawing lines from the floor of the chambers was discouraged.
Becker noted that the CTAS consultant wasn’t available at the Legislative Committee meeting, nor was Becker allowed to consult with him outside of the meeting.
“I feel that my voice has not been heard,” he said. “A 10-minute meeting with him could have answered my questions.”
Becker first moved to defer a vote, depending on which map passed, but later withdrew that motion.
Jeremy Mansfield, who represents the 11th District, said he was against expanding to 24 districts. Out of 90 counties in the state, approximately 85 percent of the county commission districts have two or more commissioners per district, he argued.
Mansfield said that citizens are better served with two representatives.
“It’s unprecedented and definitely not commonplace to do one,” he said. “Going to 24 [districts] is a step toward a Metro-type government.”
By state law, county legislative bodies can have anywhere from 9 to 25 representatives.
District 3 Commissioner Alan Driver said he could see pluses and minuses to having both 12 and 24 districts.
Having a smaller district, he argued, may mean being able to get to know his constituents better. However, going to 24 districts would mean he’d keep maybe 10 percent of his current constituency.
“I believe having 24 districts will provide better representation,” said District 5 Commissioner Baker Ring of Gallatin. “Virtually every place I’ve lived has had one representative per district.”
10th District Commissioner Caroline Krueger said she wasn’t convinced that citizens would have less representation with one representative rather than two.
“Taking a district from 16,000 residents to 8,000 – I’m not sure it’s fair to say one is better for more representation,” she said.
School Board hopeful moved back into District 9
In addition to the approval of a new 24-district County Commission map, county legislators approved a new map for the Sumner County School Board.
That discussion was preceded by several citizens voicing their opposition to the proposed map, citing an Oct. 20 redistricting committee meeting in which District 9 School Board member Pat Brown asked to have the Twin Eagles subdivision removed from her district. The committee obliged.
Joshua Graham, a vocal critic of the Board of Education who lives in the Twin Eagles subdivision, has said he’s running against Brown. He and several other citizens accused the redistricting committee of Gerrymandering, the manipulation of political boundaries to benefit one party or candidate over another.
District 5 Commissioner Danny Sullivan acknowledged the controversy.
“Sometimes if it looks bad or smells bad, it could be bad,” said Sullivan who made a motion to amend the School Board map to put the Twin Eagles subdivision back into District 9.
Langford ruled Sullivan’s amendment out of order, arguing the map couldn’t be amended since the CTAS representative who drew up the boundaries wasn’t at the meeting.
“I don’t accept the fact that we can’t make an amendment to what’s before this body and bring it to a vote,” said 2nd District Commissioner Larry Hinton. “If we have the authority to pass it unamended, surely to goodness we have the authority to amend it and then pass it.”
After a five-minute recess to confer with county Law Director Leah May Dennen, Langford said he erred in calling Sullivan out of order.
Commissioners then voted on Sullivan’s amendment to add the Twin Eagles subdivision back into District 9. That motion passed 18 to 6. With no more discussion, commissioners approved the amended School Board district map 21 to 3. Commissioners Leslie Schell, Paul Goode and Scott Langford were the three no votes.
Sumner County Administrator of Elections Lori Atchley said that voters will be receiving a letter and new voter registration card notifying them of their new voting districts and precincts some time in January.
To view the new County Commission and School Board maps, go to: https://www.sumnertags.com/getdoc/2f3545b6-8a04-4f39-89c7-abf67ed705de/commission