Every 10 years in conjunction with the completion of the decennial census, politicians begin drooling at the thought of one thing — redistricting — and that official process has begun in Oakland County, with the organizational meeting of the county’s Reapportionment Commission taking place last week.
Officials serving on the commission — Clerk/Register of Deeds Bill Bullard, Jr.; Prosecutor Jessica Cooper; Treasurer Andy Meisner; Oakland County Republican Party Chairman Jim Thienel; and Oakland County Democratic Party Chairman Frank Houston — expressed desire to work in a fair and transparent manner during the process.
“My goal is that our commission will listen to all views from the public and seriously consider their opinions before adopting a redistricting plan for the county commission,” Bullard, a Republican, stated in a press release.
“Redistricting is a critical process that must be fair and transparent to ensure quality representation for Oakland County residents,” said Meisner, a Democrat, in the same release.
“My expectation is that we will all work together to draw district lines in compliance with the statutes and the new census,” Cooper said.
“I believe the real world challenges required to present a fair and constitutional redistricting plan in this politically-charged arena will certainly demonstrate to Oakland County citizens how effective bipartisan leadership can work for the best interests of Oakland County citizens,” Thienel said.
Bullard said last week that Houston was unanimously selected chairman of the panel. Bullard was tapped unanimously as recording secretary — a display of a level of “bipartisanship already,” Bullard said.
Meisner echoed those sentiments, saying that he felt the first meeting was “very good and productive,” as well as “very collaborative.”
“I thought it went really well,” he said. “All voices were heard.”
The commission is required to, as best as possible, redraw county commissioner district lines so that each district is contiguous, compact and represents roughly the same amount of Oakland County citizens.
State law stipulates that the county board can have between 25 and 35 seats, as is the case with all counties with populations over 1 million.
All of the panel’s meetings are open to the public under the state’s Open Meetings Act and documentation produced is subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
The commission is tasked with redrawing the Oakland County Board of Commissioners districts to fit with the most recent census data. However, it’s rarely as cut and dry as that.
In 2001, the last time county commissioner districts were redrawn, the boundaries were challenged in court, according to Bullard. The county board has no authority over the redistricting commission and doesn’t have the power to approve or shoot down the redrawn districts that the panel produces. When the reapportionment plan is approved by a majority of the Reapportionment Commission members, it is filed with the Oakland County Clerk/Register of Deeds Office, at which time it becomes effective. Copies are also sent to the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office, as required by state law.
The districts have to be redrawn within 60 days of receipt of the 2010 U.S. Census data, which will be released by April 1, although it could come sooner than that, Bullard said. He added that new census information is released every week.
State law mandates that “county apportionment commissions consist of the county clerk, the county treasurer, the prosecuting attorney, and the statutory county chairperson of each of the two political parties receiving the greatest number of votes cast for the office of secretary of state in the last preceding general election.”
The Reapportionment Commission will meet again today, Wednesday, March 9 at 9:30 a.m. to discuss and possibly select a vendor for software to be used during the redistricting process, according to Bullard.