The microphone for public comment during the Shelby County Commission meeting on Monday afternoon. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

This story has been republished with permission from Tennessee Lookout. Read the original story here.

The Shelby County Commission held a special session on Wednesday to expedite approval on redistricting maps before the Nov. 8 deadline, and voted to adopt a redistricting plan of 13 members for 13 districts regardless of population shifts.

Shelby County officials had only a few weeks to reshape Shelby County as the 2020 Census was released in August, later than is typically the case because of pandemic delays. Darrick Harris, with the Memphis and Shelby County Division of Planning, created redistricting maps that kept population of roughly 71,500 residents per district, and respecting political boundaries

But the county’s population experienced flat growth in the decade since the last redistricting and populations have shifted from one area to another. Cordova’s District 4 experienced the most growth and was one of the few districts big enough to support gaining a commissioner. Cordova currently does not have a commissioner.

“We tried to maintain as much of the communities of interest as we could, but the constraint we have is that a lot of the communities believe they should have their own commissioner…unfortunately these communities are not big enough to support an entire county commission (district),” said Harris. 

Shelby County’s population stayed flat in the decade since the last redistricting but populations have shifted from one area to another.

Shelby County’s current maps could not legally be kept as they were, said Harris, which caused drastic shifts in several districts. 

“I want it to be known by our community that in over 150 years in this body, I think redistricting has only happened once. I think that’s important to know, and when it did happen, it was for the sake of single-member districts recognizing communities,” said Commissioner Brandon Morrison. 

On Monday, the Redistricting Ad Hoc Committee debated before voting to recommend four maps for final consideration next week. Six other maps remained eligible for consideration, despite controversy. Among them was a map publically submitted and initially presented by the Shelby County Republican Party, leading to allegations of partisanship.

Commissioner Brandon Morrison said that the map was not intended to be controversial and had been viewed incorrectly by the community. Another map pitted Morrison’s District 13 against Commissioner Michael Whaley’s District 5 due to population shifts.

“I ran to represent the whole of the community. I care about every single citizen, and regardless of what happens, I’m going to still be that way,” said Morrison.

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer

“But I think this should be a nonpartisan effort and I’m very saddened by the turn it’s taken,” she added. 

Commissioner Tami Sawyer spoke on Morrison’s behalf, saying  the media has negatively viewed their disputes over the publicly submitted map, which redrew Sawyer’s District 7. Sawyer said media outlets have continued to “portray me as an angry woman because I’ve seen my fellow women electives treated in the same way.”

Sawyer announced earlier this year that she would not seek reelection but expressed concerns over protecting the interests of populations in District 7 facing shifts to the east in the disputed map. 

The Shelby County Commission will hold a final vote on redistricting maps on Monday, Nov. 1.