2011 and Earlier / News

Decision time for those who decide county commission districts

Based on 2010 Census data released last week, a group of Leelanau County officials will begin meeting next week to decide how and whether the seven county commissioner districts should be reapportioned.

For the first time in nearly 10 years, the Leelanau County Apportionment Commission will meet Tuesday at 1 p.m. at the county government center. By law, the commission is comprised of the county clerk, the county treasurer, the county prosecutor, and the chairs of the county’s Republican and Democratic party organizations.

Clerk Michelle Crocker is the only person who served on the commission in 2001 when 2000 Census data prompted its formation. At that time, a population increase and shifts of population within the county’s 11 townships led the commission to increase the number of county commissioner districts – and the number of county commissioners on the board – from five to seven.

Crocker explained that under state law a county the size of Leelanau could have any number of commissioners between five and 15. She said it will be the commission’s task to look at the 2010 census data and draw maps of county commissioner districts that give Leelanau County residents equal representation on the county Board of Commissioners.

She said that as a general rule of thumb efforts are made to align districts with township boundaries for the purpose of simplifying elections. In 2001, that was relatively easy to do in the case of districts in the western and southern portions of the county.

However, population shifts noted in the 2000 Census led the commission to draw lines that included only the southern portion of highly populated Elmwood Township (District 1), combine northern Elmwood Township with much of Bingham Township (District 2), some of northern Bingham Township with most of Suttons Bay Township (District 3), and the northern end of Suttons Bay Township with Leelanau Township (District 4).

Elsewhere in Leelanau, the current commissioner districts are fully aligned with township boundaries. District No. 5 includes Leland and Centerville Townships; District No. 6 includes Cleveland, Empire and Glen Arbor Townships; and District No. 7 includes Solon and Kasson Townships.

Crocker said there will be no way to know how or whether the commissioner districts need to be aligned until the commission thoroughly reviews the 2010 census data, seeks public input, conducts a series of map studies of the issue, and makes a decision within the 60-day period allowed by state law.

Leelanau County Democratic Party chair Betsy Johnson of Empire said she is looking forward to working with her Republican counterpart, Eric Lind of Suttons Bay, as well as three elected county officials who also comprise the apportionment commission. Lind could not be reached for comment this week.

County commissioners receive an annual salary of $5,000 per year and receive additional “per diem” pay based on the number of meetings they attend. In addition, commissioners are offered health insurance coverage or a “buy out” from the insurance program. The county chair receives $7,000 The per diem and insurance benefits available for each commissioner and his or her family generally far exceed the basic salary.

“In this time of budget concerns,” Johnson said, “I don’t think it would be appropriate to consider increasing the number of county commissioners serving on the board.”

Aside from that caveat, however, Johnson vowed to keep an open mind about the process and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to serve.

At its first meeting on Tuesday afternoon, the commission will select its chairman and vice chairman. Officials speculated that Crocker would be elected chairman because she is the only one with prior experience on an apportionment commission. The commission will then decide dates and times of several meetings they will likely hold within the 60-day window allowed under state law before submitting a redistricting proposal to the state.

Each of the meetings will be open to the public, and members of the public will be invited to offer their own suggestions and submit their own maps depicting how county commissioner districts should be reapportioned based on 2010 Census data.

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