With re-districting a done deal, the attention of the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors has turned to the method of representation for the residents of the county. After a preliminary discussion on the issue during a special meeting last Friday, board members visited with Palo Alto County Attorney Lyssa Henderson about the issue during Tuesday's meeting.
The discussion began with Board Chair Keith Wirtz asking Henderson for some words of advice.
"I think it's just a matter of you guys deciding what it is that you want to do as far as what plan you want to be under," Henderson said. "There are good points and bad points of each plan in regards to the representation it offers."
Acknowledging the fact that a petition drive is underway concerning the reduction of membership of the Board of Supervisors from five members to three, Henderson re-iterated that the petitions only place the actual question on the ballot in the November 2012 election for the voters to decide.
"If that would pass in 2012, what's the next step?" Wirtz asked.
"If the measure goes through, everyone would run anyway," Henderson answered, "and you would have enough people running to fill three positions, along with anyone else who filed nomination papers to run for the office."
Henderson read the board the Iowa Code Section, 331.204, detailing the progression of change to a three-member board, noting that the board would be reduced in size starting in 2014. It was also noted that if the board were reduced to three members, new districts would have to be drawn up to provide for equal representation.
Supervisor Ed Noonan spoke up. "I'd introduce a motion to switch to Plan One, everyone at-large and everyone in the county voting for them, just so future boards won't have to go through this."
Supervisor Ron Graettinger asked if the board changed to a different plan, if there was a chance that the decision could be reversed.
"You can, but it takes another vote," Henderson said. "You can change this because you've been in your current plan for six years, but you can also change it if the voters request a special election."
Wirtz noted that he had talked to a dozen constituents who favored the current system of a supervisor living in and representing the district where they live. "But, I got a call at six yesterday morning from the coffee club at Food Pride and they passed the phone around to about a dozen people and they were all in support of three supervisors representing districts."
"Do they want someone assigned to represent them? That's Plan Two," Henderson said, "with at-large voting."
"At-large voting, but you represent a district," Wirtz confirmed. "I don't have a problem with voting at-large, but I think the people like having you represent a district."
"I'd like to see the whole county think on this as a unit, rather than little chiefdoms here and here and here," Noonan said, "That's what I like about Plan One."
"I'd worry the smaller communities will feel like Emmetsburg can control everything because the population is here," noted Supervisor Jerry Hofstad.
"That's a misconception," Noonan said. "The people in the country really count on their supervisors. A lot of people in town don't know what we do. They go to their city councils."
As the discussion continued, Supervisor Leo Goeders asked how new districts would be created if the board were reduced in size. Henderson answered it would be the same process as was just completed.
"And that would happen when?" Wirtz asked.
"That would happen in 2013, so that candidates could run for office in the 2014 General Election," Henderson answered. "The measure to reduce supervisors would appear on the ballot in 2012, and if it passes, in 2013, under Plan Three, you would re-draw new districts to three so when voters go to the polls in 2014, those districts are established so they know who within those districts."
"This is a tough decision to make," Graettinger stated. "People like Plan Three because they get to vote for their supervisor in their district."
"They can still get that with Plan One," Henderson observed.
"Maybe we better not vote on this today," Wirtz suggested. "We should ask the people to let their supervisor know what they want."
With Noonan's motion dying for lack of a second, Wirtz closed out the discussion. "We just want to hear what the people say."