A county Democrat is saying a legal challenge is likely now that the Republican-controlled Oakland County Board of Commissioners has approved a new set of district lines for the county’s governing body.
Commissioner Marcia Gershenson (D-West Bloomfield), also the co-chair of the county board’s Democratic Caucus, said she’s leaning toward pushing for a legal challenge to the new district map — a suit that would be filed on behalf of the nine Democratic commissioners on the board who voted against the district lines that were approved today, Friday, April 13 in a 15-9 party-line vote. Commissioner Kathy Crawford (R-Novi) was absent from the meeting.
Gershenson said she expected a decision on the matter by Wednesday, April 18.
Oakland County Democratic Party Chairman Frank Houston said he wouldn’t rule out the county party signing on as a plaintiff in a lawsuit, nor did he rule out the party putting money behind a challenge.
Darryl Conliffe, a Farmington Hills resident who addressed the county board before commissioners approved the new map, called the process leading up to its approval “divisive,” and added that Republicans committed an “abuse of power” and had “stolen (his) vote.”
After the Oakland County Reapportionment Commission helmed by Democrats carved up Oakland County into 25 new county board districts last May as required by law after the release of new U.S. Census data, Republicans in the state Legislature enacted Public Act (PA) 280 of 2011, handing over control over the redistricting process to the Board of Commissioners, which is dominated by a 16-9 GOP majority.
Democrats challenged the constitutionality of the law, which they claimed was a blatant power grab, but the state Supreme Court didn’t see it that way last month when it ruled that PA 280 is constitutional.
The Ingham County Circuit Court and the state Court of Appeals had previously ruled PA 280 was unconstitutional.
Republicans argue that the statute sponsored by state Rep. Bradford Jacobson (R-Lake Orion) saves the county $250,000 a year in commissioner salaries and benefits by reducing the county board from 25 to 21 members.
Since the divided Supreme Court ruling, county commissioners have been rushing to approve new district lines before the May 15 candidate filing deadline, with a spate of meetings held in the last two weeks to jumpstart the process that culminated today.
Under the new map, west Oakland County will be divided into the following seven county commission districts, which are followed in parenthesis by the total population in those districts.
• District 2: Highland Township (56,230);
• District 4: Northeastern Waterford Township (57,227);
• District 5: Orchard Lake, the northern half of West Bloomfield Township and southern Waterford (58,079);
• District 6: White Lake and northwestern Waterford (59,278);
• District 7: Commerce Township, Walled Lake, Wolverine Lake, and southwestern West Bloomfield (59,066);
• District 8: Milford and Wixom (55,106);
• District 13: Southeastern West Bloomfield (56,960);
“When you look at the law, it’s very clear that our map is very, very legal, much more so than (the Republicans’ district map),” Houston said. “Our map beats theirs, hands down. From a partisan perspective, it’s very clear that it’s gerrymandered.”
“Neither map is illegal. Neither one,” said Commissioner Shelley Taub (R-Orchard Lake). “When they judge a map, if it were to go to court, they aren’t going to judge which map is better,” but instead consider whether the one before judges is in violation of the law.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Gingell (R-Lake Orion) said the redistricting effort is “not a comparative process,” which Commissioner David Woodward (D-Royal Oak) — sponsor of the Democrats’ proposed district map — countered by saying it’s commonly used in courts as a metric.
“There are certain parameters within which you have to fall,” Taub said. “If you fall within those parameters, both based on state law and federal election law, then you’re OK. In other words, one map may have more splits in cities and one may have more splits in townships, but as long as the districts are configured as best you can in kind of a square, rectangular manner, you’re OK.”
Woodward also said the Democrats’ proposed map had the lowest population deviation from the 57,255 resident goal for each district, and the lowest number of breaks — meaning that the number of communities that are divided into multiple county board districts is lower.