Palo Alto County's Board of Supervisors faced an old, tiresome subject on Tuesday and when their discussions ended, the issue remained unresolved, with several questions remaining on the part of the supervisors.
The issue the drawing of new supervisor districts has dragged on since June of this year and after Tuesday's meeting, doesn't appear to be nearing any resolution in the near future, despite law that says otherwise.
Under the state's Home Rule provisions, counties have three options for supervisor representation: Plan One, where supervisors are elected at large with no districts; Plan Two, where supervisors are elected at-large, but represent districts that are equal in population; and Plan Three, in which supervisors are elected by the voters of equally-populated districts, with supervisors who reside in that district.
Palo Alto County is one of 20 counties in the state that utilizes Plan Three for supervisor districting. Pocahontas, Kossuth and Hum- boldt Counties also utilize Plan Three, while Emmet and Clay Counties use the Plan One system for their Boards of Supervisors.
The key component of the of districts, the equal population of each district, is proving to be more and more difficult to achieve as population numbers decline.
Iowa law requires every county to readjust supervisor districts every 10 years after the U.S. Census is conducted. Palo Alto County's re-districting efforts began back in June when a three-member Redistricting Commission was formed to go over maps of the county with population numbers in an effort to draw boundaries for the supervisor districts. The commission drew up several proposed district maps, which were sent to the Legislative Services Agency at the Statehouse for approval.
However, the Legislative Services Agency (LSA) rejected all of the county's proposals over the Summer and into the Fall. With an Oct. 15 deadline to submit plans to the state, the county submitted a final proposed plan. That final submission was again rejected by the LSA, which noted in a letter that it appeared that the county was trying to draw its districts to fit the residences of supervisors. Along with the letter was a redistricting map created by the LSA, who requested the board conduct the required readings of an ordinance to adopt and enact the new districts as created by the state.
The new districts, as designed by the state, placed the residences of Supervisors Ed Noonan and Leo Goeders both in the same district, and removed the city of Graettinger from the supervisor district served by Ron Graettinger, as the new district boundary runs down the middle of the road in front of Graettinger's residence.
There were also other concerns with the state's designed plan and as the supervisors looked at the map, the opinions were not positive.
Finally, Graettinger spoke up. "I would move that we disapprove the re-districting plan as presented by the state Legislative Service Agency on Nov. 14, because they split Emmetsburg Township three times."
The motion addressed one of the state's own rules that the LSA invoked to reject one of the county's proposals earlier in the year, where a township had been split to fit into two districts. In that case, the LSA said that their rules prohibited double splits of a township.
In the LSA proposal, Emmetsburg Township, including the City of Emmetsburg, was split up into three parts to three districts.
"They rejected our plan when we split a township twice, and then they split Emmetsburg three times," Graettinger said. "They're not following their own rules and I won't abide by that. If we have to follow the rules, they do too."
Supervisor Ed Noonan agreed, and questioned why, when he had run for election to represent District Five, that he would now have to run for election to District Three under the state's proposal.
"The people elected me to District Five. I have two years left on my term. Why do I have to run again? That's just stupid," he said.
The discussion continued as Deputy Auditor Carmen Moser reminded the board that by law, a redistricting plan has to be in place by January of 2012.
"You have to have districts set by January 15," County Auditor Gary Leonard admonished the board. "People can take out their nomination papers for the primary starting January 15 and they have to know the districts so they can take out their papers."
"We don't like their plan and we need to let the state know it," Graettinger said. "They're always shoving stuff down our throats. We have the right to say no to them."
With a second from Supervisor Leo Goeders, the board voted 4-0 to reject the state's proposal. Board member Jerry Hofstad was absent and not voting.