For the second week in a row, The Palo Alto County Supervisors took no action regarding a proposed re-districting plan. The clock is ticking, however, leaving the supervisors with few options in the matter.
Palo Alto County Attorney Lyssa Henderson was on hand at Tuesday's board meeting along with Deputy Auditor Carmen Moser to discuss the issue with the board, who a week earlier, had rejected a proposal and ordinance submitted by the Legislative Services Agency for a redistricting plan. The board's objection to the state plan centered around a three-way split of Emmetsburg Township by the state, after the county had been instructed that multiple splits were not acceptable.
Board Chair Keith Wirtz asked the board members their thoughts on the re-districting issue, to get everyone's perspective on the problem.
Supervisor Ron Graettinger explained he had called Governor Terry Branstad's office on Monday of this week to discuss the situation and had been told a representative of the Secretary of State's Office would return his call. But, Graettinger had received no return call before Tuesday's meeting.
Supervisor Jerry Hofstad noted he had called Phil Peterson of the Iowa State Association of Counties, and told Peterson that ISAC should get involved in the issue as counties' rights were being taken away by the state.
When asked how many counties had not adopted re-districting plans, Moser noted that seven counties remained without plans, including Polk and Linn Counties, who were to adopt plans this week.
Wirtz noted that he had several meetings over the past week and had the opportunity to visit with supervisors from other counties on the issue. "They all had the same problems with re-districting, just like us."
Addressing the problem of two supervisors now living in the same district, Wirtz noted another county in Northwest Iowa had the same problem, but with two districts, putting four supervisors in the position of having to run against each other. "The problem is these are old laws established for the Census about re-districting and you can't change the law," Wirtz said.
The talk turned to changing the plan for representation from districts to at-large representation.
"The board can change the current plan to a different plan by a vote of the board, but that plan will not change until January First after the next General Election," Lyssa Henderson explained. "But, that doesn't take away your responsibilities to a voting district map for 2012. We have to establish voting districts so people know where to vote in 2012."
Henderson pointed out that if the supervisors voted to go to at-large representation, all five seats would go on the ballot in the November election, and anyone else who wanted to run for election.
Supervisor Ed Noonan asked what would happen if the board paid no attention to the district map drawn up by the state.
"You can't draw another map based on at-large, that would not become effective until after the election," Henderson said.
"What she's saying is next year, this map would still be in effect," Moser added.
"If you change to at-large today, all of your terms would expire in December of 2012," Henderson said. "The change would go into effect in January of 2013."
County Auditor Gary Leonard informed the board that there was also a petition being circulated around the county to reduce the Board of Supervisors from five members down to three members.
"So that would change everything again," Wirtz observed.
If enough signatures were obtained by the petition drive, the question would be placed on the November 2012 General Election ballot, and if approved, the process of deciding on the representation plan would have to begin again.
After a few moments, Supervisor Ron Graettinger stated he felt the board could wait one more week before making a decision.
"Approving this particular map is very important from a time perspective," Henderson told the board. "But, if you approve this map it does not impact your right to change what plan you choose."
"We've been working on this for several months," Moser noted. "We've had three different maps and the Secretary of State's office has worked with us. They didn't just automatically come to this conclusion or this plan. Don't you feel that we've given this a good shot?"
"I don't think the Secretary of State has worked with us," Graettinger replied. "Because you guys made one little change and they refused it."
"The reason they did that is because we tried to accommodate the supervisors, and that's the problem," Leonard said. "That's against the law."
Wirtz asked Henderson if, in her legal opinion, there was any prayer of the county being able to get it's plan approved.
"I don't think we're going to have much of a chance," Henderson replied. "The way our population is spread out in the county and Emmetsburg has such a high concentration of population, that's the only way they're going to go with their map."
As the discussion wound down, Henderson summed up the state's position, from what she had learned in conversations with the Secretary of State's office. "I think the last change was probably just a spanking because there was a change that was made that was illegally done,"
"I think you're totally right," Leonard agreed.
"That's why they came back with this last change," Henderson said.
The board agreed to meet in a special session at 8 a.m. Friday, Dec. 9, to allow Graettinger a chance to hear back from the Secretary of State on his concerns.