This is a guest editorial from Teri Anulewicz, the Ward 3 Representative on the Smyrna City Council.
In late January, several members of the Cobb County legislative delegation revealed an updated political boundary map for Cobb’s four commission districts. Each district includes around 172,000 residents in six municipalities, including Acworth, Austell, Kennesaw, Marietta, Powder Springs, and Smyrna, as well as unincorporated areas of the county, which includes areas commonly identified as communities, like East Cobb, Mableton, and Vinings.
The courts ultimately drew the current map in 2012, and the Cobb delegation understandably prefers a map that is of their own making. My concerns with the proposed boundaries stem from the Cobb delegation’s apparent lack of consideration for communities of interest, and with the haste and perceived opacity of the current process.
In this latest draft, Kennesaw and Smyrna are each divided into two Commission districts; three commissioners will represent Marietta. There are valid concerns that these divisions will result in a dilution of resources and efficacy of municipal and county elected representatives. In Cobb County, as in most of Georgia, public service as an elected official is a part-time job. We balance families, careers, constituent services, and we work to determine and achieve our long-term vision and goals for our communities. When commission members are expected to understand the nuances of multiple localities, and when local elected officials must cultivate and maintain relationships with multiple commissioners, the overall efficacy of the collaboration between municipal and county representatives is diminished. Looking at the current map’s overlap of commission districts with municipal boundaries it is not clear why entire municipalities cannot be encompassed within single commission districts.
I also fail to understand the rushed approach taken by the Cobb delegation. The proposed map would not take effect until 2016. Accordingly, the expedited process to rush this map into existence makes little sense. Even with a legislative session that is overshadowed by the drive to get home and campaign, there is ample time to give thoughtful consideration to Cobb’s commission boundaries. This map has been the subject of quiet conversation and rumination for several weeks, but there has been minimal public discussion of this issue that impacts every resident in Cobb County. I am concerned that the current process lends itself to the outside view that there is a lack of the transparency in which we pride ourselves in Cobb.
Drafting maps is too often a process that is fraught with partisan and personal politics. In Georgia, those who draft political boundaries are obligated to consider population, as well as constitutional and other legal factors, but within those constraints it is absolutely possible to also draw maps that take communities of interest into greater consideration than whichever way the winds of partisan affiliation in those communities happen to shift.
Drawing political boundaries with the intent of crafting districts that make it easy for one party or candidate to maintain their seat, rather than accurately reflecting local communities, does a disservice to productive collaboration as well as constructive dialogue among elected leaders. This is true for Congress, for the Legislature, and at the county level. Elected representatives, those who seek office, and the political parties with whom they associate better serve their constituencies and their parties by working to understand how and why their districts are changing, rather than changing their districts to suit their own goals.