Hendersonville leaders narrowly approved on first reading Nov. 9 a redistricting plan that draws three aldermen out of their current wards and removes one alderman from more than 90 percent of his constituency.
The city’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 7 to 6 to accept a redistricting map recommended by a Citizen Redistricting Committee appointed in September.
State and federal law requires city, state and county governments to redraw voting districts every 10 years following the U.S. Census to assure equal representation for voters. The city of Hendersonville is currently divided into six wards represented by two aldermen each.
Now at 61,753 residents, Hendersonville’s population increased by 20 percent since 2010, according to U.S. Census data. The growth means that each of the city’s six wards should contain roughly 10,200 citizens – an increase of 2,200 residents per ward.
Now at 13, 437 residents, Ward 5 on the city’s eastern edge has seen the most growth in the last 10 years. The other five wards range in size from 8,891 in Ward 3 to 10,905 residents in Ward 6.
During the Nov. 9 BOMA meeting, redistricting committee Chairman William Styles explained how the committee reached its recommendation of the new boundaries.
Styles said the committee followed the guidelines for redistricting established by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, specifically that districts should be compact and contiguous. Overwhelmingly, he noted, residents favored a separate district for each of the Walton Ferry and Indian Lake peninsulas. Currently portions of Ward 2 are on both peninsulas.
Although not mentioned in the Comptroller’s guidelines, the committee followed the instruction of Mayor Jamie Clary and didn’t take into consideration where current aldermen live when redrawing the maps.
The map recommended by the committee moves Ward 2 Alderman Pat Campbell (who died suddenly on Nov. 16) to Ward 1; Ward 2 Alderman Lee Peterson is moved to Ward 4; and Ward 5 Alderman Jonathan Hayes is moved to a newly configured Ward 2, leaving behind more than 90 percent of those he represents.
There’s nothing illegal about drawing aldermen out of their wards, said City Attorney John Bradley.
However, the proposed map would create a situation the city hasn’t seen before with such a drastic change in ward boundaries.
It’s still unclear how the new map, if approved on second reading December 14, will be implemented.
“The City Charter doesn’t address redistricting,” said Bradley. “But it does address changing the number of wards and the number of aldermen, and we can look at that reasoning for ideas of how to transition.”
As evidenced by the split vote on Nov. 9, the committee’s proposed map hasn’t been without controversy.
During a special-called meeting on Nov. 3, several aldermen, including Campbell and Hayes, proceeded to redraw the boundaries, arguing that the committee’s map was too disruptive to the current ward boundaries.
Several thousand citizens will no longer be represented by who they cast votes for, they argued.
“I do believe the sitting aldermen should stay where they’re at,” said Ward 4 Alderman Steve Brown.
Rachel Collins of Ward 5 agreed.
“I feel like we need to respect the votes that were placed and maintain the boundaries as best as we can,” she said.
Others argued that the work of the redistricting committee shouldn’t be readily dismissed.
Much of that discussion continued during the Nov. 9 BOMA meeting.
“The objective should be to draw compact, contiguous wards,” said Ward 4 Alderman Karen Dixon who thanked the redistricting committee for its work.
“Voters should choose their elected officials, elected officials should not choose their voters,” she said.
Several pointed out, however, that a portion of Ward 2 still crosses Drake’s Creek and parts of Ward 1 are barely contiguous in the map drawn by the redistricting committee.
“When you redistrict, you do what you can to do no harm – because you affect thousands of people, not just a couple of aldermen,” said Ward 4 Alderman Steve Brown.
Those who voted for the redistricting committee’s recommended map included Mayor Jamie Clary, Ward 1 alderman Mark Skidmore, Lee Peterson of Ward 2, Russ Edwards of Ward 3, Karen Dixon of Ward 4, and Eddie Roberson and Jim Waters of Ward 6.
Ward 1 alderman Peg Petrelli, Pat Campbell of Ward 2, Arlene Cunningham of Ward 3, Steve Brown of Ward 4, and Jonathan Hayes and Rachel Collins of Ward 5 voted against it.
BOMA will vote on final reading at a special-called meeting on Nov. 30 at 5 p.m. at Hendersonville City Hall.
City leaders have until Jan. 1 to submit ward boundaries to the state Comptroller’s Office. Half of the city’s aldermanic seats – one from each ward – will be on the city’s general election ballot on Nov. 8, 2022.
Editor's note: This story has been updated from our print edition to include a special-called meeting by Clary on Nov. 30. Aldermen were previously scheduled to vote on this on Dec. 14.