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Redistricting goal: Bring Forsyth together
Unity prevails at tri-party meeting
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Forsyth County News

There were some differences in opinion, but the overall theme of a redistricting meeting Monday night was unity.

A joint effort of Forsyth County’s Republican, Democratic and Tea parties, the gathering was designed to collect ideas for congressional, state and county maps being redrawn to match new U.S. Census data.

The most common request among the parties, speakers and even legislators was to put all of Forsyth into one congressional district instead of the current setup, which splits it between two, Districts 9 and 7.

Various ideas were floated, both by party officials and audience members, as to which counties should be included in Forsyth’s congressional district.

But the constant theme was keeping Forsyth with its neighbors to the east and west, Hall and Cherokee counties.

"Don’t divide us up," said county resident Stella Lohmann. "We’ve already learned to grow together.

"This is important to keep your communities together. We need to lock arms with people and not be torn apart."

District 27 state Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, said the county’s delegates "want to see that too."

"You’re not speaking to a deaf ear," he told the crowd of about 100. "We want to see Forsyth County whole and not split up."

Murphy was joined at the meeting by fellow Republicans District 51 state Sen. Steve Gooch of Dahlonega, District 23 state Rep. Mark Hamilton of Cumming and District 24 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon of south Forsyth.

Ultimately, the Georgia Legislature must approve the new maps, including those for all 159 of the state’s counties.

The maps must then be approved at the congressional level, before the U.S. Department of Justice reviews them.

With its large population growth since the last census, Forsyth likely will gain at least a fourth state House seat, Dudgeon said.

"There are 176,000 people in Forsyth County," he said. "There’s going to be 53,000 people per Georgia House district. We will get an extra representative just mathematically."

For the Senate, Murphy said the count is 173,000 people, which means Forsyth will continue to be represented by two senators.

That said, he noted, the state’s reapportionment committee has not prepared any maps.

"There [are] no maps drawn yet that we can look at," Murphy said. "I can tell you that our maps are going to be constitutional and they’re going to be fair … the delegation’s goal is to make sure that we listen to our constituents.

"You fire us, you hire us, so we want to make sure we listen … and act upon what we hear."

The county’s district map was the only one shown Monday that wasn’t speculative.

County commissioners, originally scheduled to approve the map last week, postponed their vote until Tuesday to hear from the public during Monday’s meeting.

In an impromptu vote, many in the crowd preferred some tweaks to the map, over suggestions to start from scratch.

Among those asking to start from scratch was former Commissioner David Richard, who said the proposed map would "continue changes that started 30 yea rs ago."

"It doesn’t take into consideration any of our growth," he said. "Make the map work according to the way this county has grown. Stop tinkering at the edges.

"This is an ineffective map today, and to make adjustments here and adjustments there and adjustments there just continues the ineffectiveness of the map."

Another suggestion was a small fix for the Windermere community, the majority of which is in District 5.

Resident Richard Ward asked to move the part of the community that’s in District 3, currently just a couple of residences, into District 5.

A majority of the five commissioners were at Monday’s meeting, as were most members of the local school board.

The new county district map will also affect school board districts, though it has no impact on attendance zones.

"The district lines don’t have a bearing on how schools are districted," said school board member Kristin Morrissey.

"Commissioner [Brian] Tam, his children go to Riverwatch, that’s District 5, but he lives in District 2," she said.

Forsyth has one commissioner and school board representative for each of its five districts.

The 2012 election cycle will feature contests for the Districts 2, 4 and 5 posts on the county commission and Districts 3, 4 and 5 on the school board.

Chuck Welch, a county native, said he attended the meeting to listen to ideas.

"I thought some excellent points were made," he said. "We had the Republican Party, the Tea Party and the Democratic Party and everyone actually played nice.

"And everyone was talking about a common objective for a community as a whole and I think it’s rare you hear different factions speak about a common thread, so I was impressed with that tonight … everybody put their personal agendas in their pocket."

Notes were taken during the meeting, which will be given to state lawmakers as they work to approve the three maps. Hamilton said the meeting was a good start to what will be a difficult process.

"It’ is always great to be able to hear from our constituents, especially when dealing with such complex and important issues as reapportionment," he said.

"Most of what was voiced tonight was very consistent with what we have heard over the last several months, so we will continue to make those thoughts and recommendations known to the reapportionment committee members in this process."