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County officials delay redistricting vote

Chaves County commissioners look at a map showing current commission districts during a Thursday morning public hearing at the Chaves County Administrative Center about redistricting plans based on new census counts. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Chaves County commissioners have decided to postpone their decision about commission redistricting until their December meeting.

The group of five elected officials met Thursday morning at the Chaves County Administrative Center for their regular monthly meeting and held a public hearing about changing the boundaries of the five commission districts based on the results of the 2020 census released in August and September.

After discussing what had grown to five redistricting plans by the start of the meeting, they voted unanimously to eliminate two of the possibilities and to reconsider the remaining three during a scheduled Dec. 16 meeting.

“This is a very important decision that we make as commissioners, so I think it is in our best interest to do our due diligence and make sure we get it right,” said Will Cavin, chairman of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners. Several other commissioners made similar remarks.

The commissioners also requested that Rod Adair, a former state legislator and demographic consultant working with the county and city of Roswell regarding redistricting, present them with a table that indicates the population, size and demographic breakdown for the current commission districts. That information had previously been presented for the plans.

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State law requires local governments to reevaluate and possibly redraw their wards or districts based on census results. The 2020 census results indicated that Chaves County lost 488 people, going from 64,699 in 2010 to 65,157 in 2020. State law also dictates that the population should be divided evenly among the districts, with only a 5% variation allowed either way. The ideal population count would be 13,031 for each commission district.

At a Nov. 9 workshop, commissioners considered four plans presented to them by Adair. After the workshop, Commissioner Jeff Bilberry, who represents District 3, met with Adair, with Cavin also there, to suggest a fifth plan.

“It helps clean up some of the numbers between District 1 and 3 and get us a little closer to the numbers,” Cavin said.

Bilberry added that he suggested Plan E or Echo because Plan D (Delta) would have expanded District 1 in the east to the county’s boot heel and didn’t seem to provide as much equal representation as other plans.

Stan Riggs, who serves as a lawyer for the county, said that the plan could have been voted on Thursday even though it wasn’t presented at the workshop because it had been posted online after that meeting and people were allowed to make comments at the public hearing Thursday.

Voting rights activist Frank Sanchez had made comments at the workshop, with his main point that Hispanic neighborhoods and precincts remain intact. At the Thursday public hearing, Dave Kunko, retired county clerk who said he has been involved in many redistricting efforts, recommended that commissioners ignore most public pressure or political representatives to pick the plan that most closely meets the criteria to divide the population evenly, keep land contiguous, keep precincts and communities of interest intact, and avoid packing districts.

Community volunteer Rita Kane-Doerhoefer expressed a preference for Plan B or Bravo but mostly wanted to thank people’s efforts.

After public comment, Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell moved and other commissioners seconded motions to eliminate Plan Bravo and Plan Delta from consideration.

They decided that Plan Bravo, which Adair had nicknamed the “perfect plan” because it most evenly divided the county population, was not preferred because it would have split six voting precincts, which Adair indicated was “a lot.”

He said that he did not think any other plan splits any precincts. According to Cindy Fuller, with the Chaves County Clerk’s Office, there will be 65 precincts in the county as of Jan 1.

Plan Delta was eliminated based on the concern that it expands District 1 too far to the south and would not represent the east side as well as other plans.

That leaves commissioners to study more closely how Plan A or Alpha, Plan C or Charlie, and Plan Echo will affect county voters and commission districts. The plans and the maps have been posted on the county’s website, chavescounty.gov. The county must have redistricting completed by the end of the year.

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.