THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES
Redistricting: Council districts slim down as Waccamaw voter rolls grow
By Jackie R. Broach
Waccamaw Neck residents will make up the majority of the constituency in Georgetown County Council District 2 under plans for redistricting that were presented this week.
The same change will take place in the corresponding school board seat, as school district lines mirror those for council districts.
District 2 lines will shift north to the edge of Heritage Planation on the western side of the Neck and to the North Causeway on the eastern side as a result of growth in Districts 1 and 6. Redistricting is mandated every 10 years to reflect population changes shown in new census figures.
The town of Pawleys Island would not be affected by the shift, but in Georgetown, either the Kensington area or the city’s historic district will be moved out of District 2, depending on which of two plans are ultimately accepted.
Under either scenario, the total population in District 2 would be around 8,800, and 4,930 of those would be Waccamaw Neck residents — something that could increase the likelihood of a Waccamaw Neck resident being elected to represent the district when Council Member Ron Charlton’s term ends next year.
Charlton, who has served District 2 since 1996, isn’t concerned.
“I’ve had opponents before,” he said. He has worked to serve his constituents on both sides of the river and said he believes they are satisfied with the job he has done.
Charlton committed last week to seek a fifth term, though he said his run in 2008 would be his last.
He planned at the time to become involved in a property development venture.
“I felt like the day would be full with that,” he said.
But those plans fell through with the collapse of the housing market.
Charlton said his health was a concern during his last election, but those issues have been resolved.
The new district lines would return District 2 largely to what it looked like before the 2000 census, according to Charlton.
“Before this last redistricting, I had Hagley and Pawleys Plantation,” he said. Back then, he and Tom Swatzel were the only Waccamaw Neck representatives.
Having more Waccamaw Neck constituents won’t affect his service, he added.
“I’ve always been concerned about Waccamaw Neck,” he said.
District 2 would be left without a school board member under “Plan B.” Board Member Pat DeLeone lives in Kensington. That plan isn’t favored by county staff or the majority of council as it would result in a larger decrease in the number of minority voters in District 4.
If council goes with that option, “you better have a good explanation for why you picked it,” warned Bobby Bowers, director of the S.C. Budget and Control Board’s Office of Research and Statistics. “I would be very cautious, because you do have a court-ordered plan still in place for the school board.”
The school district switched to single member voting districts in 2008 after the U.S. Department of Justice said the at-large election system used until then disenfranchised black voters.
Jim Dumm, one of two at-large school board members, said he favored Plan A from the start, but it looked even more appealing after hearing Bowers’ remarks about Plan B.
“That struck a chord with me,” he said. “I think the county probably did about as fine a job as it could [with Plan A] as far as moving people around and keeping the areas contiguous for everyone.”
Bowers commended the county for its work on the plans and for completing them so early.
“Some counties haven’t even started yet,” he said.
The redistricting process was fairly simple for Georgetown County, said County Administrator Sel Hemingway. The county’s population grew by 4,361 in the last decade, according to the 2010 census, and nearly all of that growth occurred in Districts 1 and 6.
The goal was for each of the seven districts to have as close as possible to 8,594 people. About 1,800 needed to be shifted from District 1, which includes Murrells Inlet and part of Litchfield, into District 6.
That meant moving the northern boundary for District 6 from just above Willbrook Boulevard to Wachesaw. District 6 then had 4,000 people too many, so District 2 had to move north.
Sandy Island was also affected. Those residents will be represented by Council Chairman Johnny Morant in District 7 instead of Jerry Oakley in District 1.
The island was included in District 7 prior to the last redistricting.
The shift helped preserve the minority ratio in Morant’s district, according to Hemingway.
Redistricting plans will be shown at public input meetings throughout the county in June and July. A schedule hasn’t been set.
A redistricting plan will be sent to the Department of Justice in August.