AG's opinion: Redrawn Colleton school lines won't change 2014 elections

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCIV) - In the opinion of the Attorney General's office, three Colleton County school board members who recently found themselves drawn out of their districts can continue representing the people who elected them.

In May, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney passed a bill that redrew the school board lines. The resulting lines put representatives from several differing districts in the same district. It also left open other districts.

The opinion released Wednesday says the measure pushed through by Pinckney is a forward-looking change that does not have bearing on board members currently in the middle of their terms.

That means, in the Attorney General's opinion, there is no need for special elections based on the newly drawn districts.

"It does not 'remove' incumbent members of the Board from the elected position they currently occupy [and] it is the opinion of this Office that [Pinckney's law] will not affect the upcoming 2014 school board elections," the opinion reads.

As it stands, only District 4's representative will deal with an election in a newly drawn district this year since he is up election in November, based on the opinion of the Attorney General's office.

The opinion comes as a group of five Colleton County groups prepare for a lawsuit fighting the redrawn lines.

The Colleton County School District, the City of Walterboro, the Colleton Walterboro Chamber of Commerce and the Colleton Business Alliance are all plaintiffs in the suit. They said they did not know a redistricting bill was written until after it passed.

The group is arguing the redistricting is unconstitutional.

The Attorney General said in the opinion that since there is pending litigation on the matter of constitutionality, he would not weigh in on the matter, adding even if there was not a lawsuit in the works the matter was outside the scope of the Attorney General's office.

Attorney Butch Bowers, who is representing the groups, released the following statement.

"We are currently reviewing the recent Attorney General's opinion issued to the Colleton County School Board regarding the reapportionment of the School Board districts, and we are evaluating all of our legal options to challenge the legality and constitutionality of Senate Bill 1284.

In most reapportionment matters, officials seek public input to ensure that the views of its citizens and the affected public body are taken into account when redrawing election district lines. However, no input was sought from either the public, the school district, or the School Board regarding this redistricting plan, which is nothing more than a gerrymandered retaliation against certain School Board members for simply doing their jobs. That lack of due process is sad and disappointing, but it is nothing new. Due to prior redistricting plans, Colleton County has been divided up between 8 members of the General Assembly, none of whom reside in the county and all of whom can be elected without a single vote from Colleton County. As a result, local bills like this one pose an imminent and continuing threat to the right of Colleton County citizens to have a voice in legislation that directly impacts their lives, and my clients are committed to doing everything they can to ensure that the constitutional rights of the citizens of Colleton County are protected."