Reapportionment committee adopts new plans

By Stephen S. Glass

Star Staff

   In a divided vote Tuesday night, a redistricting plan adopted last month by the Carter County Reapportionment Committee was rescinded, and two new plans were adopted for consideration by the county commission.
   The scrapped plan would have reduced the number of county commissioners from 24 to 15. The same plan would have cut the number of constables serving the county to five. Committee members had also hoped to reduce the number of school board members from seven to five.
   Most of the county's constables were present at last night's meeting to plead with the committee not to cut their positions.
   "I don't understand why you would want to cut the number of constables," said 8th District Constable Bob Carroll. "Constables give the county extra law enforcement, and we don't cost the county a dime."
   There are currently 16 constables serving Carter County. However, a state law adopted by the general assembly in 1978 allows for only half as many constables as county commissioners in a given county. By law, no county can have more than 25 commissioners and 12 constables. Carter County lawmakers were not made aware of the law until this year, yet they are bound to comply, said County Attorney George Dugger.
   "If we have to go to 12, then we'll go to 12," said Carroll. "But whatever you do, please don't cut us all the way back to five." Carroll said that he spends as much as $7,000 per year out of his own pocket to serve his district and that other constables do the same for their own.
   "I buy my own uniforms, pay for my own car, my own gas and oil. None of that costs the county anything. But we are out there providing services that free up regular law enforcement to do their jobs."
   Sheriff John Henson also spoke on behalf of the constables.
   "These guys have the same training as my deputies, and I don't know what we would do without them," Henson said. "They always cooperate with the sheriff's department. I can call on any one of these guys day or night, and they'll do anything we need them to do."
   Swayed by the constables' arguments, Committee Member Charlie Bayless called to rescind the five-district plan and motioned for a vote on a new plan that may allow the county to keep eight districts and 24 commissioners. The eight-district plan, along with a number of others, was drawn up by County Executive Truman Clark earlier this month.
   In a 5-3 vote, the committee chose to present the full commission with an eight-district plan.
   That plan, however, is not without quirks and must first be reviewed by State Planner Albert Teilhet.
   The new plan would require shuffling some voting precincts into other districts. Unaka and Midway would be joined with Hampton, Little Milligan and Elk Mills. The Hunter Precinct would be moved into the Courthouse District.
   Teilhet said is uncertain whether Unaka and Little Milligan touch on the state's maps. If not, the committee will have to resort to some other plan, he said.
   Commissioner Buford Peters was angered by the new eight-district plan. Peters represents Stoney Creek and would likely lose some of his constituency in the shuffle.
   "There's not even a road that connects Hampton and Stoney Creek," Peters said. "This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."
   "If you have a better plan, we'd like to see it," countered Clark.
   Peters said that the committee had a good plan with five districts but they chose to throw it away.
   Following the meeting, Peters and Clark exchanged hot words. Peters accused Clark of drawing up the new plan for "political reasons."
   "You can think whatever you like," said Clark, who is set to retire next year.
   The committee also chose to keep the present number of education districts and school board members and suggested that constables meet with Clark and the county attorney to discuss new districts for them. Changing the number of education precincts would require a private act by the state, Dugger said.
   Assistant Administrator of Elections Laura Holtsclaw said that having separate districts for constables, school board members, and commissioners will lead to confusion among voters and election officials.
   "There will have to be 21 different ballots for every election," said Holtsclaw, who pleaded to no avail with the committee to adopt a plan that would be "simple and logical."
   Charlie Bayless, Bill Armstrong, Brad Green, Harry Sisk and Wayne Holtsclaw voted for the plans. Phil Nave, Jeff Treadway and Ted Weaver voted against the plans.