During a special called meeting the Blount County Board of Commissioners voted to approve a redistricting plan that includes 10 County Commission districts and 21 County Commissioners.
Back in September, the Blount County Redistricting Committee voted to send three plans for the potential restructuring of the county to the full County Commission.
“Plan 6” proposed 14 County Commission districts, with 14 commissioners, “Plan 12” proposed 10 County Commission districts with 21 commissioners and “Plan 13” proposed 10 County Commission districts with 20 commissioners.
In a 13-1 vote on Monday evening, the commissioners moved in favor of Plan 12, with only Commissioner Chairman Ron French voting for a different plan.
Many commissioners expressed support for Plan 12 because it required the least amount of change and kept the current 10 district, 21 commissioner system intact.
“I am leaning more toward Plan 12 for the simple fact that it’s 21 commissioners. It’s what we’ve done since 1980 and it’s worked pretty well for our county,” County Commissioner Robbie Bennett said. “I feel like with 21 we do what the people want, it’s more power to the people.”
“I’d like to express my support for Plan 12,” County Commissioner Brad Bowers added. “I like the idea of just reassessing our lines with the population, and to echo what Mr. Bennett said, I like the idea of 21 commissioners and not reducing that.”
Plan 12 has also proved to be the most popular among the Blount County residents who attended Monday night’s meeting, as well as previous meetings of the Blount County Redistricting Committee.
“According to tonight’s handout, since 1980 the commission has simply taken existing districts and realigned them with population shifts. I would submit that that is the appropriate thing to do again,” Blount County resident Mark Pulliam said.
Still, the plan is not without its critics. The current setup was criticized several times during the redistricting process due to the fact that it results in “split-precincts” — which officials said cause voter confusion during elections.
In fact, when the redistricting process first began, one of the main goals laid out by the committee was to reshape the county so that county commission districts and school board districts were more closely aligned, eliminating the split-precincts.
“For election purposes, some housekeeping needs to occur to clean up some confusion with split precincts and make it less confusing for the voter,” Blount County Commissioner of Elections and Redistricting Committee member Susan Knopf said back in June. “Some voters don’t understand why the sample ballot has a school board on it but it is not on their ballot.”
When the point was raised again on Monday, Commissioner Mike Akard countered by suggesting that completely reshaping the county would result in even more confusion for Blount County residents.
“This is the way it’s been for a long time and it has been working,” Akard said. “There are people confused but if we want to talk about confusion, let’s look at these new districts where we won’t even know who is in our territory.”
Ultimately, after months of hashing out several different scenarios, scrapping plans, revisiting plans and debating the merits of each, it seems county leaders are comfortable with the current system, voting in overwhelming favor for the plan that keeps it in place.
Plan 12, now officially approved, will be sent to state officials.