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Despite Reservations, Supervisors Approve Redistricting Plan

By Staff | Dec 14, 2011

After many weeks of submission, rejection and unhappiness, the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors grudgingly approved a new re-districting map of Supervisor Districts for the county. The action came at a special board meeting on Friday, Dec.9.

A proposed map laying out the new districts was presented to the county by the Legislative Service Agency in mid-November, after Palo Alto County had submitted at least three re-districting plans of its’ own to the Secretary of State’s Office. The re-districting process is required every ten years by the Iowa Code to guarantee equal representation of the residents, coinciding with the U.S. Census, which is conducted every ten years.

The county’s plans were rejected on each submission by the state, with the state sending its final plan that placed two supervisors, Ed Noonan, Leo Goeders, in the same district for the general election in 2012. The new map also removed Supervisor Ron Graettinger from his home district, moving the boundary across the road from his residence.

As part of the state’s proposal, Emmetsburg Township was split three-ways for the state plan, after county officials had been instructed not to split a township more than twice, a fact that angered the board of supervisors enough to reject the state proposal when it was first submitted for approval in late November. The question of approving the state plan arose again for the Dec. 6 board meeting, but the issue was tabled once again until Friday’s special meeting, after Graettinger had called the Secretary of State’s Office for further information and had not received a reply to his call.

In Friday’s special meeting, Supervisor Chair Keith Wirtz asked each of the board members for their thoughts on the issue to start the discussion.

“What happens if we don’t pass the state plan?” asked Ed Noonan.

“Basically, the Attorney General would come up here and take over with regard to the re-districting process,” answered Palo Alto County Attorney Lyssa Henderson.

“They’d come in and say, “This is it, this is the way we’re doing it.” agreed Leo Goeders.

“Well, its not as clear as that,” Henderson replied. “I don’t know that there’s ever been a county that hasn’t passed a map before. So what they would do would probably be something of first impression. But the fact is that the Secretary of State has the ultimate authority of setting the voting guidelines and districts and we’re a subdivision of that and we have the authority to that in our own districts.”

Henderson pointed out that there are guidelines in the Code that address how districts should be drawn up, including by shape, rectangles and squares, and compact in nature. But, these guidelines are spelled out for Congressional districts, and not specifically addressed to county supervisor districts.

“You have to infer that those apply equally to county voting districts because there’s not anything specifically set forth in the Code,” Henderson explained.

Noonan asked the county attorney what would happen if a current petition drive to reduce the membership of the Board from five to three members. “Would this re-districting have to be redone again?”

“Yes it would,” Henderson answered, depending on the plan you choose.

It was noted if the petition signatures would place the question on the ballot, it would be voted on during the general election in November of 2012.

Wirtz asked Graettinger for his thoughts.

“I talked to the Secretary of State for 45 minutes Thursday, and it comes down to she says she really doesn’t have control to change anything once they called and found out that one change was made, that automatically made them ask why we made the change.” Graettinger said. “I told her if we had known we couldn’t have made any changes, we wouldn’t have wasted our time.”

Graettinger continued, “I told her they don’t understand how the counties up here run anyhow and all counties run different. I said if she wanted to do something about this, she could, but she really didn’t care. She said ‘Yes we do’ and I said you sure don’t act like it.”

Supervisor Jerry Hofstad noted he had not heard anything back from the Iowa State Association of Counties on the issue.

Graettinger pointed out that the board had adopted an ordinance approving a re-districting map earlier in the Fall, and it would have to be rescinded before taking any further action, but Deputy Auditor Carmen Moser noted that action contained language that negated the action if the county plan was rejected by the state, clearing the way for the new ordinance.

After a few moments of silence, Wirtz spoke up. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to put this thing to a vote.”

Hofstad introduced a motion to adopt the ordinance for the 2011 re-districting. After a brief discussion, Goeders offered a second to bring the question to a vote.

On a roll call, Hofstad and Goeders voted “aye” and Graettinger and Noonan voted “nay”, forcing Wirtz to cast the deciding vote. Voting “aye”, Wirtz declared the motion passed on a 3-2 vote.

“The Secretary of State views this as their duty to be consistent across all counties, and that has created problems for some of the more rural counties as opposed to those that are more urban,” Henderson noted