|LSSD maps differ, confuse officials|
|Thursday, September 13, 2012|
By PATRICK HALL
Maps of the Lebanon Special School District used by the school system, Wilson County Planning Department and County Election Commission showed differences from the same map in the Wilson County Property Assessor’s office, causing confusion during the August election.
The issue came to light during a hearing in Chancery Court on Friday, Sept. 7, where LSSD Board of Education Chairman Steve Jones was contesting the Aug. 2 election, which he lost to Johnie Payton by one vote.
Administrator of Elections Phillip Warren told Chancellor C.K. Smith during the hearing that a voter came in during Early Voting and said he lived inside the LSSD boundaries but the Election Commission map didn’t show his property within the boundary.Warren said he contacted LSSD Director of Schools Scott Benson and asked about the voter’s address. Warren indicated the LSSD maps also showed the voter as living outside the district.
The voter reportedly told Warren that he paid the LSSD property tax, and Warren said he checked with Property Assessor Jack Pratt’s office and found the voter did in fact, pay the school tax. Warren said the map in the Property Assessor’s office showed the voter’s property inside the LSSD.
“Our map and the LSSD map were different from the map in the Property Assessor’s office,” Warren said.
A map obtained from Pratt’s office showed the discrepancies between three “layers” that showed maps from the LSSD, Election Commission and Property Assessor’s office. Pratt explained some areas included in his map were not included in the LSSD map or the Election Commission map.
Warren said the maps were found to be different and he checked voters’ addresses in the areas in dispute to be sure that those individuals knew they could vote in the LSSD race. According to Warren, about 23 registered voters were left out of the LSSD district on the maps given to the Election Commission.
According to the map in the Property Assessor’s office, several parcels on Hickory Ridge Road were left out of the LSSD and Election Commission map, and properties between Southside Park and Murfreesboro Road were left out, as well as other smaller parcels around the boundary.
Warren also said Pratt supplied him with a list of everyone who lives within the districts based on property tax records.
“Jack really helped us out by giving us a list during Early Voting so we could cross reference those names,” Warren said.
Warren pointed out the Election Commission receives its maps from the Wilson County Planning Department. Wilson County Planner Tom Brashear said the Election Commission receives all of his department’s data and “layers” or political boundaries.
“My GIS (Geographic Information Systems) coordinator worked with the Election Commission,” Brashear said. “We have sent them the layers and data that we have.”
Brashear said his department’s maps showed the same areas missing from the LSSD found by the Election Commission during August Early Voting.
“His property didn’t show up on our layers as being in the LSSD,” Brashear said, referring to the voter in question. Brashear added the maps used by the Election Commission are the same as those in the planning department.
As to why the boundaries differ from the LSSD, planning department and Property Assessor’s officer, Brashear said he couldn’t think of a reason why they would be different.
The exterior boundary of the LSSD has not changed since 1993. Any changes of the district as a whole must be approved by the Tennessee General Assembly as it is a special school district and not a city school system.
Brashear noted his department would have received the boundaries from the school district.
“We would have gotten the boundaries from the LSSD at some point,” he said. “It has been a layer in our system for years. If there is a problem, it needs to be resolved.”
Benson said the maps in his office show the LSSD since the system changed its school zones for the opening of Winfree-Bryant Middle School in 2011. He added the maps came from the planning department, which handled the mapping work for the district.
Brashear said the final approval for those maps came from the LSSD and added that school officials confirmed the maps were correct. At that time, Benson was interim assistant director of schools and Dr. Sharon Roberts the director of schools for the LSSD.
“I get my maps from Wilson County and the maps I have are from when we rezoned the district to build Winfree-Bryant Middle School,” Benson said.
Officials did not say, or were unaware, how long the maps have shown the differences in the boundary. Warren was adamant that everyone who is eligible to vote in the LSSD is in their database of registered voters.
Warren said the Election Commission added further fail-safes in its computer system to make sure voters are identified properly according to where they live. “Instead of just an ‘L,’ we added ‘LSSD’ so there is no confusion.”
Warren said the Election Commission now has the same map or “layer” for the LSSD that the Property Assessor’s office has and noted they have been double-checking addresses and tax records to be sure voters know they can vote in the LSSD.
He pointed out the LSSD boundaries do not follow the Lebanon City Limits and said voters who are unsure about whether they live in the LSSD should call before the Nov. 6 election.
“That’s the key here, to call ahead of time and if you have a question while you’re voting, ask a poll worker, because once you finish voting, there’s nothing we can do,” Warren said.
Early Voting for the Nov. 6 General and City Election begins Wednesday, Oct. 17 and runs through Thursday, Nov. 1.
The colored areas in the above photos show the LSSD district on a map at the Wilson County Property Assessor's Office. The yellow areas indicate what was left out of the maps at the LSSD office and the Election Commission. Blue areas show what was on the map at the LSSD office, but left out at the Property Assessor's office.