Metro officials and council members appear set to expedite the redrawing and approval of the council’s 35 districts, putting the redistricting process on course for completion before August’s elections.
Rick Bernhardt, executive director of the Metro Planning Department, told a chamber full of council members Tuesday afternoon that he expects 2010 U.S. Census Bureau final data to come in by the end of March at the latest, numbers that would dictate how council districts are redrawn.
“We’ll get them some time this month, and we’ll start as soon as we get them,” Bernhardt said, referring to the redrawing of the council’s map. “We can do that. We can turn it around.”
Bernhardt said his department could draft the council’s new lines within a week after receiving the census figures. From there, the planning commission would organize a meeting to vote on it before sending the new draft to the council for final approval. He said he supports completing the redistricting process before August’s election.
“I think there’s a lot of confusion which would be created from adopting a new redistricting plan immediately after the election,” Bernhardt said. “If it’s able to be done, it would be a lot easier for everyone to understand what district they’re representing and who their representative is.”
After the planning department redraws the council’s lines, the Metro Planning Commission would then review. It would be up to the Metro Council itself to approve the updated map.
Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors, who presides over the council, said she could organize three meetings to quickly entertain the three votes required for approval.
Historically, Metro has waited until after the first election following the release of new census data to update its council lines, but Nashville attorney George Barrett, who specializes in constitutional law, has threatened suit against the city if redistricting doesn’t happen before Aug. 4. Tuesday’s meeting was organized as a result of Barrett’s efforts.
“I’m very pleased with the council,” Barrett said. “We’re making progress. I think they’ve shown that they really want to do this.”
Council members Tuesday seemed to uniformly endorse beginning the redistricting process as soon as possible to ensure accurate representation following August’s election.
“Mr. Bernhardt says they can do it in maybe five or six days; they could probably do it in three or four,” said Councilman Michael Craddock, an opponent running against Mayor Karl Dean. “This council can meet three times in one week. We’ve done that on budget issues.
“I’m not concerned about my district,” he said. “My district has grown very much. But everybody in this building knows that the southeastern part of this county has grown tremendously. Quite frankly, those people out there feel like everybody in this building ignores them.”
Council candidates started picking up petition papers two weeks ago. But if lines are withdrawn, some candidates could be rezoned into new districts. Candidates have until May 19 to turn in petition papers.
“We don’t know,” Davidson County Election Commission Administrator Albert Tieche said when asked for the protocol if new lines are drawn. “That’s going to have to be defined.”