How many seats will there be on the Cumberland County Commission for the next 10 years?
That’s the question facing the county’s redistricting committee, which is charged with ensuring that all residents are equally represented according to the latest U.S. Census count. The county must adopt a redistricting plan for county commission and Board of Education representation by Jan. 1, 2022.
“I hope that you are done way before then,” said Ben Rodgers, county government consultant with the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service. Rodgers is assisting the committee with creating county district maps for representation based on the 2020 U.S. Census.
“I want you all to get done and feel good about it, but I don’t want to rush you,” he told redistricting committee members Monday.
Cumberland County currently has nine commission districts, with two commissioners serving each district. State law requires equal representation, meaning each commissioner will represent an equal number of county residents.
The biggest issue the committee faces is the growth of Fairfield Glade. The resort community has shown a 23% population boom since 2010. Its boundaries were shrunk at that time, with those in neighboring District 6 expanded to make room for that growth.
That’s also a possibility during this year’s redistricting, with District 6 showing an 8% population decrease over the past decade.
Fairfield Glade resident Charley Wilson offered another suggestion.
“I request that in developing your options; you consider keeping the number of Districts constant at 9, but increasing the total number of commissioners to 19 by keeping all Fairfield Glade residents in a single district represented by 3 commissioners,” he wrote in an Oct. 3 email sent to commissioners, County Mayor Allen Foster and the Crossville Chronicle.
Wilson, a 6th District resident who unsuccessfully sought a commission seat in 2020, proposed moving 815 Fairfield Glade residents from the 6th District back into the 9th District to allow for the third post.
“You’re going to have Tansi wanting to do the same thing,” said Commissioner Darrell Threet, 3rd District, from the audience. “There’s about a third of Tansi that’s slivered off [from District 5] and put in Homestead [District 3].”
He added, “If you do one area, you’ve got to be fair and do the other area.”
Rodgers included Wilson’s suggestion in three options he presented to the redistricting committee Monday. Also included was the present set up of nine districts with two commissioners per district; and a third option of eight districts with two commissioners per district.
With the present situation, each district would include 6,794 people, or 3,397 per commissioner. Under the 19-commissioner suggestion, Districts 1-8 would include 6,438 people, with 9,655 in District 9, equaling 3,219 per commissioner. The eight-district, two-commissioner scenario would present 7,644 people per district, or 3,822 per commissioner.
“Remember, one person, one vote, basically is what it is,” Rodgers said. “It’s total people per district. It’s not who’s eligible to vote.”
Though he developed three plans, Rodgers pointed out that it’s up to the committee to decide if they want to pursue them or develop more plans. They can also present more than one plan to the county commission to make the final call.
“I’ll say this: If you send one plan, and they don’t vote on it, then y’all have got to meet back together as a committee and work on another plan to send back to commission,” he said.
Fairfield Glade’s District 9 isn’t the only one that experienced growth. Up 6% in population are District 1, which includes Crossville, and the bordering District 5 that runs from central to southern Cumberland County and includes Lake Tansi Village.
The fewest residents live in District 8, in the westernmost part of the county. That district, which includes the town of Pleasant Hill, has 6,033 population according to the 2020 census. Its population also dropped the most significantly at 11%.
Other districts with dwindling populations over the past decade are District 2, which includes part of Crossville; District 3, covering southern to central Cumberland County; and District 6, or the southeastern portion of the county, including Crab Orchard.
Districts 4 and 7 in northern Cumberland County experienced less than 2% population loss but still fall within the parameters of the one-person, one-vote formula.
“You’ve got to do something,” Rodgers said. “Whether it’s nine districts, two commissioners, whatever. You have to change something, because you’re not inside deviation.”
To be inside deviation, he explained, a district must be within 5-10% of the equal representation number. For the present nine districts, that’s 6,794 people per district.
Rodgers reminded the committee that, though they can keep in mind demographics of particular districts, it’s the numbers that are most important.
The committee elected Administrator of Elections Jill Davis as chairman, Commissioner Chad Norris, 1st District, as vice chairman and Colleen Mall, 9th District, as secretary.
Other redistricting committee members are Nancy Hyder, 2nd District; Rebecca Stone, 3rd District; Charles Seiber, 4th District; Terry Lowe, 5th District; Wendell Wilson, 6th District; and Jim Blalock, 8th District.
Committee members were to meet in a reconvened session at 1 p.m. Oct. 11 to look at moving census blocks toward shoring up the numbers for equal representation.
They also planned take a closer look at plans for maintaining the same number of commissioners and districts, as well as an additional commissioner for District 9.
“Either way, y’all need better representation,” Stone said of Fairfield Glade. “I feel badly that you all are so underrepresented.”
HOW MANY ON COMMISSION IS TOO MANY?
Cumberland County has had 18 members of the county commission — two for each of nine districts — in recent history.
If the county’s redistricting committee opts for a pitch by a Fairfield Glade resident in the 6th District, that number could increase by one.
“I request that in developing your options; you consider keeping the number of Districts constant at 9, but increasing the total number of commissioners to 19 by keeping all Fairfield Glade residents in a single district represented by 3 commissioners,” Charley Wilson wrote in an Oct. 3 email sent to commissioners, County Mayor Allen Foster and the Crossville Chronicle.
Wilson, who made an unsuccessful bid for county commissioner in 2020, made several points toward creating a third commission seat for Fairfield Glade. He cited the area’s rapid growth, a precedent set by having four representatives — two per district — for the city of Crossville, and keeping districts compact and contiguous, which would also give the resort community representatives from a similar demographic.
“ … keeping the status quo option will require moving at least 1,500 additional (2,300 total) residents from District 9 to District 6,” he wrote. “Adhering to 1 person, 1 vote law means Fairfield Glade would lose well over half of the ideal population for a third Commissioner. Why move 70% of the ideal population for one Commissioner out of District 9 when moving about 30% into the District is less disruptive as a whole?”
Ben Rodgers, county government consultant with the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service, told members of the redistricting committee on Monday that an odd number of county commissioners is not unheard of.
“There are counties that have that,” said Rodgers, who serves as the CTAS consultant for the Upper Cumberland region. “That’s not foreign to Tennessee government. It happens. But I have none of that in my area, so I’m new to this as well.”
But some commissioners — including those not on the redistricting committee — worry that bigger isn’t necessarily better. Sue York, District 1, recalled one instance she heard about at a meeting among officials from other counties.
“It was a very small county and I think they had like 20-something commissioners,” she said from the audience of Monday’s committee meeting. “And they said, ‘We can’t get nothing done. We can’t agree on nothing with that many people.’”
Rodgers sits on the 24-member Putnam County Commission. He told the group he is among six on that board who believes that’s too many.
“The reason is, nobody wants to vote themselves out of a seat,” he said. “But here’s my spiel: It’s not about you. It’s about serving the people of the county, and if it means the county has better chances of making quality of life better for their citizens, and that means less commissioners, then it probably is a good idea.”
He added, “My opinion is it’s a lot easier to get things accomplished with less people.”
Commissioner Rebecca Stone, 3rd District, noted that Fairfield Glade’s growth means the community will have a voice, despite the district boundaries.
“You don’t lose representation,” she said. “It’s just going to be shifted to those other districts.”
Chairwoman Jill Davis, the only non-commissioner on the committee, said she believes all commissioners represent her, not only those in her district, and that she’s comfortable bringing issues to any one of them.
“Would you ever turn down somebody who came to you in another district?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t,” Stone replied.
Jim Blalock, 8th District, agreed.
“If we would think about representing people instead of communities, things would be a lot better off,” he said. “We’ve got to look at serving people, no matter where they’re at.”