By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer
Greene County Board of Supervisors’ decision at last night’s (5/10) meeting to split the Ruckersville voting district and establish a new, fourth district could effectively leave Ruckersville Supervisor Jim Frydl out of a job in two years. In addition the creation of the fourth district without an expansion of the Board, reduces the number of at-large seats from two to one.
Frydl currently resides on the west side of US 29, an area that would be located in the new “Midway” district (a name supervisors agreed on last night), meaning he would no longer be able to represent Ruckersville.
By state law, Frydl would be allowed to finish his term. By the time it concludes (2013), a new “Midway” supervisor could be halfway through his/her four-year term, leaving Frydl in the lurch. A looming question is whether Frydl will decide to run for the Midway district after a two-year hiatus from county government.
None of this is yet enacted. So far, the discussion has focused on the name of the district and geographic integrity, rather than the decision’s consequences. One alternative, regardless of the name, the Board could designate either district the “new” district.
If the Board chose to assign “Ruckersville” as the new district, Frydl would remain in his seat and maintain the ability to run for reelection in 2013 in the “Midway” district.
Such an alternative concept has not yet been discussed by the Board.
The issue of redistricting arose as a result of the 2010 census. Continued population growth in the Ruckersville area has created an imbalance in the three voting districts. Since Virginia state law allows only a 5-percent population differential among districts, supervisors’ options were either to move more than 700 residents from Ruckersville to the Monroe and Stanardsville districts or establish a fourth district.
County Planning Director Bart Svoboda presented these two options to the Board based on meetings with the Registrar of Voters Sandra Shifflett, County Administrator Barry Clark, and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC), the latter being responsible for producing updated county maps.
Splitting the additional residents into the two other districts seemed like the least viable option, given anticipated growth in Ruckersville over the next 10 years, which may require revisiting the redistricting issue as soon as three to five years.
“If we stick with three districts, we’ll have to spend more money in the long run,” noted Supervisor Frydl.
Chairman Steve Catalano (at-large) agreed. “We know Ruckersville is where the growth is. A fourth district sets us up for the future; it’s the plan with the longest duration.”
For the new district alternative, Svoboda basically recommended splitting the current Ruckersville district along Route 29, but he suggested establishing the new district, possibly named “Piedmont”, on the east side of US 29, running north to the Madison County border. The Board countered, stating they wanted to be “geographically correct” and changed the location of the new district to the west side.
In creating a fourth district, Catalano, Frydl, and Carl Schmitt (at-large) expressed concern over the loss of an at-large seat. The board currently has three district seats and two at-large seats.
“I’ve thought a lot about this,” Schmitt said. “Two at-large members gives the county a stronger element of communitywide representation. Adding a fourth district would reduce the number of supervisors that residents could vote for.”
Because at-large seats can draw residents from anywhere in the county, supervisors were also concerned about reducing the number of people eligible to run for county seats by eliminating an at-large seat.
“I understand the difficulty in getting people to run, especially for School Board,” Frydl said. “The at-large seat gives us more options.”
But no one wanted to increase the number of seats on the board beyond the five they currently have. In the end, all supervisors agreed that establishing a fourth district now is the best and most economical choice to handle anticipated growth, but absent any further action by the board, their geographical focus impacts Frydl, his constituents, and may result in an unintentional coup .
The Free Enterprise Forum is hopeful that the Supervisors may discuss the assignment of the incumbent district at their scheduled May 24th meeting. Such a discussion would better inform citizens of the intent of the Board.
Supervisors will receive public input concerning redistricting at a June 14th public hearing, which will be officially announced later this month. After the Public Hearing the final decisions on redistricting are made by the local governing body.
Pauline Hovey is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization. If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum. To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Photo Credits: Greene County