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By Larry Hicks
Posted Tuesday, August 22, 2006

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Pittsboro, NC - At the point I am writing this, Tuesday morning, there is still one more evening of hearings to go on redistricting. The discussions of Monday night, as with the July Board of commisioners' meeting, have poured into the next day. But I can already predict the ending.

Bunkey's comment will be 'Let the voters decide'.

After a few hours of public input where over 90% of the public will speak against the idea, county attorney Bob Gunn will produce and read a pre-written motion (one that no-one in the public has seen before) calling for the placement of a referendum for in-district voting on the November ballot.

Leaning to his left, towards Carl Outz and Tommy Emerson, Bunkey Morgan will then call for the motion, Tommy Emerson will make the motion, and Carl Outz will second it. With little or no discussion the vote will be called. Bunkey, Carl, and Tommy will vote for it, and Mike Cross and Patrick Barnes will vote against it.

Bunkey's comment will be 'Let the voters decide'.

No, I'm not clairvoyant. As do many others, I just know the drill. Public hearings are held because they are legally required. They are not used as they are intended, to receive public input and comment before further deliberation. Simply put, the majority of the current board does not believe in the value of public discourse and citizen dialog. Over 94% of the public's input on Monday was against the idea of redistricting at this time, including the Democratic Party who unanimously voted for more deliberation, the Democratic Women who spoke out against it, the African American community who understands the implications of being shut out of County government, and a large number of citizens who offered alternative recommendations and observations regarding the entire process.

If I'm not mistaken, the pre-written motion included a 'Whereas' statement that indicated there was overwhelming support for this change. I find that interesting, in that Monday was the first (and last) opportunity to discuss the issue. I for one (of many) did not see support in that room on Monday, except from Bunkey, Carl, and Tommy, and less than 6% of those who spoke.

Since the election in 2000, beginning with Briar Chapel, the northeast has been inundated with development after development. At the same time, using Certificates of Participation (COPS) ... a higher cost way of funding that does not require public input or vote ... deals were struck to provide for school needs in every area of Chatham except the northeast. This left the northeast to entertain a bond referendum which would surely be defeated by voters in the west who no longer need the resources.

Taxes have risen, and will continue to rise, as have the property values in the northeast, meaning the northeast now shoulders most of the property tax burden of the county. Water protections, again affecting the northeast, have been lessened. Traffic is on the rise, while schools remain overcrowded and on the decline. Those of us who live in the northeast have suffered because of decisions of the majority of the current board.

So I find it a bit ironic to hear that the northeast has too much power, that it controls the affairs of the Board and therefore the entire county; that the County needs to move quickly (less than one month's discourse), not deliberatively in seeking balance. Let us be frank about it. Nothing has changed to spur this rush for change, except there was an election. Otherwise, I would expect that we would want to be more deliberate in our discussions, wouldn't we? There are many unanswered questions that we will not be able to resolve, because again there is no open dialog and debate.

Amongst the emotional issues presented at 'round one' of the public hearing, there were good reasons to bring pause and more discussion; minorities will be virtually shut out from winning future elections ... Patrick Barnes, the strongest voice for the citizens of the northeast, cannot run for reelection ... and the districts are drawn by outdated statistics, meaning that the northeast is underrepresented. As I noted above, 'round two' will be no different ... the majority will speak, Bob Gunn will pull out the pre-written motion ... and we move on.

December can't come soon enough.

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Larry Hicks celebrated on on the night of the 2006 Primary Election.
photo by Gene Galin