The redistricting of District 1 and 2 should be titled, Saving Commissioner Chip Baker.
First, I wish to thank the Hamilton County Commissioners and Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley on their redistricting effort, which is no small matter. Smedley will make a super-fine mayor for Hamilton County, as the Chattanoogan poll has demonstrated. I base this upon her in depth operational experience, with the added bonus of a fiscal conservative voting record that kept over 40 million or so in the hands of businesses and residents. The Wamp kids will have to wait.
Whether we agree or not, I do appreciate what the elected do.
Redistricting has long been one of those processes where there are elected benefactors, others that are slighted, and some communities are silenced through redistricting. The latter is called voter suppression. Perhaps if county redistricting arrives at a place where everyone is equally unhappy, then job well done.
Y’all, redistricting is the public’s business, and the public is allowed to convey concerns by all means available to them, write, email, and speak at meetings, it is our right as citizens.
Aside from the constitutional aspects of political speech, I feel that the famous Horton said it best, “A person is a person no matter how small.” In other words, a commissioner’s voice is no more important than a citizen’s voice. Citizen voices can move mountains as a collective, and as long as elected folks are genuine in their motives and actions, it all works very well.
So, this is my best attempt to voice concerns about the proposed 11-district commission plan. I believe that,
- There is no real basis for drastic redistricting, especially to expand the commission from 9 to 11 districts, and create two new districts.
- Merging Mowbray Mountain with Signal Mountain for a new District 2, and dumping Red Bank and North Chattanooga from District 2 is all for the benefit of one man, Commissioner Baker. More about this.
I have read that the current basis for redistricting to an 11-member commission is that Hamilton County has increased in population. These population numbers are published often to justify an 11-district commission.
Population, Census, April 1, 2020 366,207
Population, Census, April 1, 2010 336,463
Granted, Hamilton County has experienced a recent COVID boom with an influx of folks fleeing liberal states, and relocating to conservative states where commerce and low taxes flourish. Another draw is for retirees, no state income tax in the great state of Tennessee. Y’all, Tennessee is not only stunningly beautiful, but our politics have made the state a commerce success. Our state legislature does a great job. There are numerous articles and maps on the great COVID relocation from liberal states, such as California, New York, Illinois and other liberal states.
I say to our new neighbors, welcome y’all to stunningly beautiful Southeast Tennessee, low taxes, and wonderful conservative policies that brought you here.
Another source indicates that Hamilton County is growing in population by less than one percent, which is consistent with an historic trend, but may not fully capture the COVID flight from liberal states. This source lists a few thousand more. Census is not perfect.
Year Population Growth Rate
2020 371,315 0.95%
2019 367,804 0.96%
2018 364,293 0.90%
2017 361,032 0.91%
Hamilton County’s population increased by almost 40,000 from 2010 through 2020. That would be less than 4,000 new residents per each commissioner, assuming equal population density. Some areas grew more than others, and this is where the GIS technical experts are working with the commission. The commissioners are dealing with many constraints in population density and Tennessee Code Annotated, yikes I say.
What about the cost of adding two more county commissioners in the 11-district proposal? How much is it going to cost to add two new county commissioners, and eventually upon state law revision, two new school board members? The commissioners are compensated at $24,500 per year. The chairman is paid an extra $5,000 and the vice chairman an extra $2,500. The commissioners also receive health insurance, retirement benefits, and other perks. So, if the taxpayers must fund two additional commissioners, and potentially two more school board members, upon revisions to state law, the cost should be provided to the taxpayers. A rough guess is the cost of two new county commissioners, and two new school board members to be at around $200,000 a year, including all taxpayer funded benefits. I have not put a pencil to the pad to be exact, and assumed benefits were about 38 percent of the salary, plus travel, and so on.
Given the fact that the income per capita in Hamilton County is reported to be only $36,000 a year, spending and taxation by government matters.
The population increase of 40,000 or so is a weak basis for the drastic redistricting contained in the proposed 11-district plan. It is a reasonable argument for modest revisions in areas that have increased in population density.
Y’all, divide the county nine ways, and move forward, as many commissions before have. Stop growing the elected class, and creating a new expense for taxpayers.
My second concern.
District 1 has always been comprised of Mowbray Mountain and Soddy Daisy, as we are one community. It is where Mowbray residents send their children to school, shop, attend church, and meet friends at Wimpies. Mowbray Mountain children have always attended Soddy Daisy Schools, since the Mowbray Elementary was decommissioned in the 1980’s. There are no schools on Mowbray Mountain. District 1 is represented by Commissioner Randy Fairbanks and school board member Rhonda Thurman.
District 2 includes Signal Mountain, a corridor to Red Bank, and part of North Chattanooga for as long as I can remember. It has never been a problem before. Signal Mountain residents have huge connectivity to Red Bank. District 2 is represented by Commissioner Chip Baker and school board member Marco Perez, both residents of Signal Mountain.
The 11-commission district proposal creates a division line between Soddy Daisy and Mowbray Mountain, and places Mowbray in District 2 with Signal Mountain. Let’s keep in mind the children on Mowbray attend Soddy Daisy schools. Mowbray Mountain will be represented by Signal Mountain under the proposed plan.
Why is that a problem?
Signal Mountain has a population of an estimated 8,720 per sources including census. I have found sources for Mowbray that cite a population of around 1,800. If Mowbray Mountain is hijacked from District 1 to District 2 in the 11-district proposal, we will always have Signal Mountain elected representation. The move by Commissioner Baker to take Mowbray Mountain, and dump his District 2 sections of Red Bank and North Chattanooga is obviously about getting re-elected. No surprise there.
The sad part is Mowbray Mountain voted in majority with Soddy Daisy to have representation in their community. With the voting population and majority on Signal Mountain, Mowbray Mountain will get whatever Signal Mountain elects for the next 10 years. That is a given.
The children on Mowbray Mountain attend Soddy Daisy schools, not Signal Mountain, and will not be served by a school board member on Signal Mountain. This is highly objectionable for the children that reside on Mowbray.
The redistricting of Mowbray Mountain to District 2 is all about tossing some Mowbray Republicans to one commissioner, at the expense of an entire community. Elected representation on Signal Mountain for Mowbray is an absurd idea, even to help one commissioner get re-elected.
I am certain that the residents and voters on Mowbray Mountain are not aware of what is occurring in the saving Commissioner Baker redistricting plan. The rush to pass this 11-district mistake is totally unacceptable, as there are real problems in the plan that we the people are certain to be stuck with for 10 years.
The will of one elected person has created this problem.
Please commissioners, don’t rush to vote on Tuesday, please defer. It is too important. Ten years is a long time for the voters on Mowbray Mountain to be stuck with a plan to get one person on Signal Mountain elected.
Please don’t be shy John and Jane Q Public, speak up. This plan is your representation plan for the next 10 years.