In a split party-line vote of 3-2, the Oakland County Apportionment Commission — which was tasked with redrawing Board of Commissioners district lines in light of 2010 U.S. Census data as required by law — has approved a new map of commissioner districts that rankled the two Republicans on the committee and will shuffle districts in the lakes area.
The Friday, May 20 vote featured Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, county Treasurer Andy Meisner, and county Democratic Party Chairman Frank Houston supporting an amended map drafted by Cooper. County Clerk/Register of Deeds Bill Bullard Jr. and county Republican Party Chairman Jim Thienel cast their votes against the map.
According to Houston, parties have up to 30 days to file a legal challenge against the map with the state Court of Appeals.
Cooper said the map — her second amended set of proposed district boundaries — increased the minority populations in districts, and that some of the districts she drew up resembled districts drawn up by other members of the five-member panel, including Republicans.
Houston called Cooper’s map “very reasonable” and added that, although he favored his amended map, Cooper’s district boundaries could be better suited to survive a legal challenge should one arise.
“I don’t expect there to be a serious one, though,” Houston said. “I don’t see any way possible they could be legally challenged and thrown out. It’s great for deviation and keeping communities together.”
Both Thienel and Bullard, however, said a legal challenge is expected. They also took issue with the second amended map Cooper offered, and even said they could have supported her first amended map — Thienel called the first one “impressive” — thereby creating a bipartisan consensus.
“It was a fair plan, and that’s why I supported it,” Bullard said of Cooper’s first map.
Both also stated that they were disappointed that a process that had cooperation from both sides of the aisle turned into a political one at the end.
“It (the approved map) is a partisan, gerrymandered plan,” Bullard said.
“It’s kind of a give-and-take process, but I think it’s the one that I think complies with all of our requirements from state and federal law and guidance,” Meisner said.
The redistricting effort wasn’t without its contention, even among Democrats, as Cooper said at the end of the approval process that things became strained between her and Houston over the last few months.
“This is a very stressful process,” Houston said. “I think a lot of people were scrutinizing everything we said and did, and Jessica and I had a different opinion of what is important (for the new district map).”
Meisner said he didn’t know about the apparent tension between Cooper and Houston.
“It’s a wild ride, you know? It’s got its ups and downs, and I think there was a little bit of tension between everyone at some point,” he said.
But Thienel chalked it up to “political pressure.”
“Jessica’s second map seemed to be a non-partisan, honest effort to follow all the guidelines that were set down,” he said. “The third effort (the one that was approved), in my opinion, was the result of a tremendous amount of political pressure against the prosecutor to change her map.”
Houston refuted that assertion.
“First of all, to anyone who can count and analyze the data, the map that we approved is a leaning-Republican map,” he said. “If anyone looks at it, they would come to the conclusion that this is a leaning-Republican or, at best, a swing map.
“There is a big difference between all of us coming together on a consensus map and rolling over and handing Brooks Patterson a magic marker and giving him the map that he wants,” Houston said.
“We had a running battle,” Cooper said. “We did — over the deviation vs. the community breaks and splits. As I read the statute — and I look at the statutes a little more literally, so I had the lowest deviation because of my concern with one person, one vote. I thought that would be a priority for the court.”
Thienel specifically took umbrage with a new district that includes Pontiac, Sylvan Lake, Keego Harbor, and Orchard Lake Village. He said he knew that grouping those communities together was done for a reason, but he said he “just can’t fathom what it was.”
Cooper said that decision was made because, under state law, districts need to be contiguous.
At the outset of last week’s committee meeting, a motion was made to approve Cooper’s first amended map — which both Thienel and Bullard said they could have supported — but the motion failed on a 2-2 vote party-line vote with Cooper abstaining.
Glenn Clarke, an elected member of the Oakland County Republican Party Executive Committee and former chairman of the 9th Congressional District Republicans, told commission members that he felt Cooper’s second map was “gerrymandered,” specifically saying that the city of Troy is represented by five commission districts.
Cooper took issue with that, stating that under her second proposed map, Troy would be served by three commission districts.
Only Waterford, West Bloomfield and Milford have any district splits, with Waterford and West Bloomfield — the two most populous communities in the lakes area — being served by three districts, and Milford being served by two.
“Lumping (Orchard Lake) in with Pontiac, lumping Waterford in with Pontiac, and splitting Waterford in three ways just makes no sense to me,” Thienel said.
Barring any successful legal challenge to the approved map, the following is how lakes area communities would be represented on the Board of Commissioners, and how many people will be represented in each district:
• The 2nd District will represent the northern half of Milford — including Milford Village — and Highland Township (48,365).
• The 4th District will represent the northern reaches of Waterford (49,939).
• The 5th District will represent the southern portion of Waterford (48,529).
• The 6th District will represent the entirety of White Lake (49,449).
• The 7th District will represent Commerce, Wolverine Lake and Walled Lake (47,171).
• The 8th District will represent the southern portion of Milford Township (48,225).
• The 9th District will represent Wixom (46,339).
• The 10th District — the one that was a bone of contention for Thienel — will represent Orchard Lake (47,488).
• The 11th District will represent the middle of Waterford running from east to west (49,732).
• The 15th District will stretch up into the southern portion of West Bloomfield (47,962).
• The 16th District will represent a portion of eastern West Bloomfield Township (48,350).
• The 17th District will cover the vast majority of West Bloomfield (49,933).
The targeted population for each district was 48,094.