March 29 editorial: Unification through divisions

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ISSUE: Reapportioning magisterial districts OUR VIEW: Goal is increased, balanced representation

By Chris Ordway

Last November residents made it very clear that increased representation is what they want when it comes to the structure of Fiscal Court. By a margin of almost 2-to-1, residents voted to return county government to its prior format of eight magistrates and a judge-executive. The current commissioner structure was chosen in 2004, when voters approved it at the polls by a narrow gap of 1,467 votes. The spread of 11,183 ballots cast during the last election in support of the magistrate format provided a strong mandate by voters. With a gap like that, it was pretty clear that voters aren’t happy with what they’re receiving in the current arrangement.

Fiscal Court will proceed with three commissioners through its current term. In November 2010, voters will select eight new magistrates who will take office and return county government to the magisterial form in January 2011. In the meantime, a Magistrate Reapportionment Committee has been approved and appointed by county commissioners to determine what the eight districts will look like at that time.

Three voting committee members " Don Yates from District A, Danny Percell from District B, and Dennis Parrott from District C " are joined by County Clerk Kenny Tabb and County Attorney Steven Bland as non-voting members and are already working to present a proposal to Fiscal Court. Their recommendation must be completed and presented for consideration by May 9.

These five men have a considerable goal to accomplish. Following established legal criteria and requirements, they must divide the county into balanced and equally representative districts that will set the foundation to deliver the expectations which voters voiced during the last election. This is no easy task and these individuals are to be commended for their willingness to tackle such a challenge.

During the committee’s second work session last week, Danny Percell presented his idea of creating four urban and four rural districts. Saying he sees the needs and concerns of residents in the cities and county being different from one another, Percell said he believes such an arrangement would provide better representation for these unique needs. This is an interesting concept.

Don Yates and Dennis Parrett, however weren’t completely warm to the idea. Both voiced apprehension to Percell’s rendering, fearing the urban/rural districting might foster divisions between the interests of residents in the cities and county. They also questioned why issues specific to city needs should be the focus of Fiscal Court magistrates rather than falling into the purview of city government. During the discussion, both men stated their interest in a return to the “spoke” structure of previous Fiscal Court when district boundries extended outward from a central hub of Elizabethtown to the outer stretches of the county.

Though Yates’ and Parrett’s concerns about what falls into city government rather than county government are valid questions, we see Percell’s idea as an potentially timely option and one worth careful vetting by the committee.

In any arrangement, the goal must be to create magisterial districts that deliver the highest degree of balanced, accessible and equal representation possible. Our county has grown and will continue to grow. And with this growth there will be as many, if not more, unique needs as there are common ones when comparing a resident living in Sonora to one residing in Radcliff. Perhaps, as Percell’s suggests through his urban/residential proposal, the “spokes” of the past aren’t the right approach to take moving forward. Perhaps the urban/residential design might also facilitate even more partnership, cooperation and inter-local effort and activity among the government bodies of the county and cities, too.

We encourage the committee to closely weight the pros and cons of Percell’s idea. It might be one whose time has come.