MAYVILLE - County lawmakers are working on reapportionment plans, just not together.
Members of both parties have been working on new district maps in recent days. The official reapportionment commission, however, has yet to schedule its first meeting.
Legislature Chairman Fred Croscut, R-Sherman, said Tuesday that he and Majority Leader Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, met Friday to review census numbers and begin work developing a map.
Minority Leader Rudy Mueller, D-Lakewood, is pictured during the legislature’s March 23 meeting.
P-J photo by Nicholas L. Dean
They shared that map with fellow Republican legislators Tuesday night.
Having now run the idea through the caucus, Croscut will call for a meeting of the bipartisan commission for later in the week. Croscut said Tuesday the announcement of the meeting might come as early as today.
In addition to Croscut and Barmore, the commission is comprised of legislators David Himelein, R-Findley Lake; John Gullo, D-Fredonia, and Minority Leader Rudy Mueller, D-Lakewood.
What follows is the applicable priority of criteria for districts from Section 10 of Municipal Home Rule Law:
A plan of apportionment adopted under this subparagraph shall comply with the following standards, which shall have priority in the order herein set forth, to the extent applicable:
1. The plan shall provide substantially equal weight for the population of that local government in the allocation of representation in the local legislative body.
2. In such plan adopted by a county, no town except a town having more than one hundred and ten per cent of a full ratio for each representative, shall be divided in the formation of representation areas. Adjacent representation areas in the same town or city shall not contain a greater excess in population than five per cent of a full ratio for each representative.
3. The plan shall provide substantially fair and effective representation for the people of the local government as organized in political parties.
4. Representation areas shall be of convenient and contiguous territory in as compact form as practicable.
With the arrival of new census figures every 10 years comes the work of reapportionment.
Since the 1970s, the Chautauqua County Legislature has been comprised of 25 members. As a result, recent reapportionment commissions have only had to adjust the lines of the 25 districts based upon the updated numbers.
This year is different. Democrats have been pushing for a reduction in the number of legislators for years now, putting the issue to vote several times. So with the work of reapportionment this year will come the work of downsizing the legislature. However, in order to downsize in time for this November's elections, the commission will have to have its final plan mailed out by April 8 - leaving members only 10 days to come to a consensus.
Unlike past downsizing attempts though, the coming reapportionment vote will only require a simple majority.
Past proposals made by Democrats to downsize the legislature all required 17 votes in order to be passed. The difference this time around is the fact that the downsizing of the legislature is tied to the reapportionment vote, which only requires the support of 13 of the 25 legislators.
As explained by County Attorney Steve Abdella, Democrats' past proposals all required 17 votes because they would have changed the county charter.
The charter itself is silent on the number of legislative districts. Through reapportionment though, legislators can set the size of the body at any number they like. Doing it the latter way requires only a simple majority vote while changing the charter to specify a number or to place a cap on the number requires a two-thirds majority.
Though the coming vote will only require the support of 13 legislators to be passed, Croscut has continually said he hopes for more than just majority consensus.
"I don't want to jam something through," Croscut said earlier this month. "My job as chairman is to get some kind of consensus. I am not going to push and I would hope that the Democrats feel the same way, that this is an important decision. Somewhere along the line, we're going to have to come to a consensus on what we want."
In the short few days since the census numbers were released, Croscut said he's come to better understand all that redistricting entails.
"It's a lot of work," Croscut said Tuesday. "I did not realize the time what it would take to put these census blocks together and then to come up with the districts. Having never experienced it before, it's a challenge. So I have a great appreciation for what these people before me went through."
Mueller and Democrats have likewise been working independently of the Republicans, though Mueller admitted Tuesday that it's not how he wanted to go about the process.
"I was not intending on coming in with a plan a couple of weeks ago," Mueller said. "I thought we were going to work together and debate issues and come up with ground rules such as, obviously, following the laws. But, instead, I was instructed to come up with our own plan."
So far, Mueller said that he has mostly just been educating himself about the laws which need to be followed when redistricting - a list of which can be found online with this article at www.post-journal.com.
"This is the first time I've ever been through this process," Mueller said. "I think it's important for it to be open. You only ever get to do this once every 10 years and it's important that to get it done right. That's why I think we needed to have started it back in January. It would be nice if all of the members of the commission were in the room at the same time and the public was aware and able to at least listen and see how the process unfolds. But maybe that will happen by Friday or this weekend, whenever the first meeting gets called for."