With the status of Palo Alto County's supervisor districts in limbo after repeated rejections of re-districting proposals by the State, the Board of Supervisors is mulling a change in the way that supervisors could represent county residents. The possibility came to the forefront after the Supervisors rejected a re-districting plan drawn up by the Iowa Legislative Services Agency during their Nov. 29 meeting.
Under the Code of Iowa's Home Rule provisions in Chapter 331, 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 elect supervisors who reside in that district.
Currently, Palo Alto County is one of just 20 counties out of 99 in the state that utilizes Plan Three for supervisor districts. Pocahontas, Kossuth and Humboldt Counties also utilize Plan Three, while Emmet and Clay Counties use Plan One for their Boards of Supervisors.
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.
While the goal of supervisor districts is to have an equal number of constituents in each district, declining populations in the rural areas are making the task of developing equal population districts is becoming much more difficult. Proof of this is the fact that in this latest round of re-districting, only nine of the state's 99 counties had their re-districting plans approved during the initial weeks of the process. The state's most populated county, Polk County, had its re-districting plan rejected by the State on the first attempt.
The Palo Alto County Re-Districting commission drew up several proposed supervisor district maps, which were sent to the Legislative Services Agency at the Statehouse for approval. However, the Legislative Services Agency rejected all of the county's proposals over the Summer and into the Fall months and 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. It was that proposed plan that the Board of Supervisors rejected on a unanimous vote.
Because of the difficulties in coming up with equally populated districts, the supervisors discussed changing to the Plan One option, where supervisors are elected at-large, without district residence requirements.
Supervisor Ed Noonan questioned whether such a switch would create imbalances in representation, with perhaps more supervisors being elected from rural or urban areas and possibly leaving some areas of the county without a supervisor familiar with the area.
Supervisor Ron Graettinger pointed out that Emmet County elects its supervisors at-large, and currently, two of the members reside in Estherville and three live in the rural areas of the county. "It seems to work OK for them, from what I hear."
However, the board made no firm decision about changing, as they want a legal opinion on when the change could take place. According to the Iowa Code, the Supervisor district plan shall be selected by the Board of Supervisors or by a special election. Any such plan must remain in effect for at least six years unless it is changed by a special vote.
The Code goes on to state, "A plan selected by the board shall become effective on the first day in January which is not a Sunday or holiday following the next general election, as which time the terms of the members expire and the terms of the members elected under the requirements of the new supervisor representation plan at the general election as specified in Section 331.208, 331.209 or 331.210 shall commence."