(Crystal A. Proxmire, 12/15/2011)
HB 5187 has passed both the State House and State Senate, and now only needs Governor Rick Snyder’s signature to become law. If Snyder signs, the bill would reduce the number of County Commissioners in Oakland County from 25 to 21, and remove the authority to draw electoral districts from the current committee to give it to the commission as a whole, putting control in the hands of the majority party.
The bill only affects Oakland County. It was introduced to the State House by former Oakland County Commissioner Brad Jacobson. It passed the House on Dec. 8 and the Senate passed it Dec. 14.
The move has been widely criticized by Democrats who question the motives of the Republicans. On the Craig Fahle radio show, Jacobson stated “I would certainly prefer the County stay in Republican hands.” He also said he was fearful of Democratic proposals at the County level.
Several cities, including Ferndale and Hazel Park, have passed resolutions urging Governor Snyder to veto the bill.
Before the Dec. 15th Oakland County Board of Commissioners Meeting, Oakland County Democrats held a press conference to talk about PA 5187. The press conference can be viewed below (or at http://youtu.be/LTAklqoLM7A).
Commissioner Craig Covey of the 25th District represents Ferndale, Hazel Park and the Southern portion of Royal Oak. He called the act “a blatant power play by Republicans,” and said that political maneuvers like this are part of what turns people off from politics. He was part of the group of Democrats that hosted the pre-meeting press conference. Marcia Gershenson, Helane Zack, Dave Woodward, Jim Nash, Tim Greimel, and Nancy Quarles were also part of the press conference.
At the Dec. 15 meeting of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, Covey attempted to introduce a resolution similar to those passed at the municipal level, but was not able to get enough votes to open up discussion on the resolution. It would have required 13 votes to suspend the rules of order to consider the matter, which is common procedure when timely issues come up. Once Covey’s motion was denied, nearly every Democrat walked out of the meeting in protest.
The drafted resolution, which was blocked by Republicans from being discussed, stated that the body “vigorously opposes this last minute partisan attempt to impose new state rules on our county that removes local control, negates the actions of county voters, forces a new system of redistricting without our consent and places the ability of drawing new county commission lines in the very hands of the current sitting majority county commissioners which is unfair, unethical, and possibly illegal, and goes against the democratic process, and we call on the Michigan State Senate and the Governor of the State of Michigan to oppose this bill.”
During the public comment, well before Covey’s motion, several members of the public spoke about the bill, including both the Chair of the Republican Party and Chair of the Democratic Party.
“This isn’t just here, this is a national strategy,” said Democratic Chair Frank Houston. “It’s happening in Arizona and other places too. But this is an opportunity for the Governor to do the right thing.”
Houston served on the appropriations committee, along with Republican Chair Jim Thiemel. The committee was made up a chair from each party, the County Clerk, the County Prosecutor, and the County Treasurer. The chairs are selected by the parties, with one from each to keep it even. The other three are elected officials whose elections are not dependent on how the district lines are drawn.
Thiemel said that Democrats in the committee played fair for the first nine weeks of the appropriations process, but made changes to the map in the last week that he disagreed with.
He was the only audience member who spoke at the meeting in favor of PA5187, saying “It took Frank [Houston] and me out of the equation and I think that’s a good thing… I appreciate what the legislature has done.” As he left the meeting, Thiemel told Ferndale 115 News “The fact people are coming here to this Commission complaining shows they don’t know what is going on. The County doesn’t have anything to do with this. They should be complaining to the legislature.”
Oakland County Executive Director L. Brooks Patterson issued a press release in favor of PA 5187, listing reasons such as “smaller government,” accountability to voters, and stating it will save $500,000 over the next two years.
He explained the legislature’s swiftness in moving this bill through, and the unusual 30 day stipulation, by saying “Reducing the size of government before the next election requires a reduced number of election districts to accommodate the smaller board. These districts must be created before the May 2012 filing deadline for candidates. HB 5187 addresses this reality by requiring any county having over 50,000 in population and having more than 21 commissioners to map out new districts within 30 days of the effective date of the new law. Generally, the Michigan Constitution provides that new laws become effective 90 days after the legislature adjourns for the year. Laws passed this legislative session subject to the 90 day requirement will become effective around March 30, 2012. HB 5187’s 30 day requirement insures new districts will exist in time for the May 2012 filing deadline.” The press release also said that “unelected, partisan party operatives” should not be part of the redistricting process.
PA 5187’s abolishment of apportionment committees, however, only applies to counties with populations over 50,000. Committees would still be permitted in less populated counties, only Oakland would be required to change. (Note: Wayne County has a charter which makes it exempt from this bill.)
The decision of who will draw district lines, and to oust four elected officials, now rests in Governor Snyder’s hands. Those who want to weigh in on the issue can contact Governor Snyder at Governor Rick Snyder at (517) 335-7858 or Rick.Snyder@michigan.gov.
Houston said that if Snyder signs the bill, it will be challenged in court, though he’s not yet sure which organizations will be behind the suit(s).