Final Hearing Tuesday For New County Districts

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The Gila County redistricting plan submitted by Payson Mayor Ray Schum one of three selected as finalists by the redistricting committee has been designated the least preferred.

The committee, appointed by the Board of Supervisors, will present the alternatives ranked in order of preference at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday at that body's regular meeting at the Gila County Courthouse in Globe.

Schum is not surprised his plan came in last.

"When your mind is made up before you go into it, there's no need to name a committee to begin with," the mayor said.

Schum has argued from the outset that his plan is the only one that gives northern Gila County a chance at fair representation. Federal law requires electoral districts to be reapportioned to reflect population shifts reported in the 2000 census.

Schum's plan would create two "urbanized" districts the Payson and Globe areas and a third rural district made up of the rest of the county.

"The census shows we have to do some redistricting because the population of District 1 (which encompasses most of the Rim country) has grown to 21,844 residents," Schum said.

The existing districts 2 and 3 to the south now have 13,778 and 15,713 residents respectively. Federal law requires that the new districts be within 10 percent of one another in population, Gila County Elections Director Dixie Mundy said.

The two plans ranked by the committee above Schum's plan are almost identical, and separate the Tonto Apache Reservation and Star Valley from Payson by placing them in District 3. They also separate Payson's Precinct 2 by placing it in District 2, which, Schum points out, "ends in the Miami area, about 85 miles away."

"What the committee is doing totally ignores the fact that the population shift went from south to north," the mayor said. "All they are doing is disenfranchising about 5,000 voters in Payson Precinct 2 and Star Valley by sending them down south."

Anthony Sissons of Phoenix-based Research Advisory Services, a company hired to assist in the preparation and actual drawing of the boundaries, says the mayor is off base to suggest that northern residents are getting shortchanged.

"At the present time, the boundary of District 1 is 30 or 40 miles south of Payson," Sisson said. "So if somebody from the area wants to run for supervisor, there is only one district to run for. The two preferred plans propose bringing District 2 and District 3 up into the neighborhood of Payson, which in theory could mean three candidates who live a block apart could run for those three seats."

Sissons said the mayor's plan has several deficiencies that the committee considered in dropping it into third place.

"I can't crawl inside the minds of the committee members to know the real reasons they ranked the plans the way they did," he said, "but it was an open working session and there were two driving factors that seemed to make the mayor's plan drop."

The mayor's plan basically took the Payson precincts and put them in District 1, while removing Pine, Whispering Pines and Zane Grey from District 1 and placing them in District 3.

"The mayor keeps saying everybody is in favor of his plan, but as soon as he sits down, members of those other communities stand up and say they are not in favor of being booted out of District 1," Sissons said.

The mayor's plan dilutes minority voting strength, particularly in District 3 where the minority population would decline from 58 percent to 46 percent.

"That would take it out of the minority-majority category," Sissons said, "and I don't think the federal government would look too kindly on that."

The supervisors must select a final plan from the three presented to them by Dec. 1.

"The Department of Justice then has 60 days to approve whatever plan they come up with," County Administrator Steve Besich said.

Schum, who will be out of town on government business, will not be able to attend the meeting on Tuesday. But he plans to take his fight to the federal level.

"This has been an uphill battle from the beginning," Schum said. "I intend to write to the Department of Justice to point some things out."

The points Schum wants to emphasize include:

The reduction in Hispanic voters in District 3 has nothing to do with redistricting plans. It is due to a combination of mine layoffs in the late '80s and early '90s and to a flood in the Winkleman area in the early '90s that destroyed many homes.

While Schum agrees that it is "theoretically possible" for the North to elect three supervisors, it is not likely to happen in districts he believes are gerrymandered. "The 2000 census has dramatically changed the equation regarding the issue of redistricting," the mayor said. His plan reflects those changes much more fairly than the other two.

Based on the fact that over 50 District 1 residents sent letters to the committee expressing their concern, while not a single letter was received from districts 2 or 3, Schum believes committee members from those districts are speaking for themselves.

The supervisors will only accept the committee's recommendations at Tuesday's meeting and take them under advisement, according to Gila County Elections Director Dixie Mundy.

"But it's an open meeting, so members of the public in attendance will probably be given a chance to respond," she said. "With a drop-dead date of Dec. 1, we know the board will have to make a final selection in November."

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