A legal challenge is well-within the realm of possibility should the Republican redistricting plan be adopted, according to leaders of the Democratic caucus of the Chautauqua County Legislature. In a press release, Democrats said the Republican plan was drafted behind closed doors with an outside political consultant, and that if violates Section Ten of state municipal law by ignoring municipal boundaries and drawing gerrymandered lines for the express purpose of protecting certain incumbents of the majority party.
On behalf of the Democratic Caucus, Assistant Minority Leader Lori Cornell urged the public to demand that the majority leadership consider the alternative plan submitted by Minority Leader Rudy Mueller last week that follows the law.
"Or better yet," suggested Cornell, "why not actually even work together on a joint plan that both complies with the law and provides for a downsized, more efficient legislature? Bipartisanship and cooperation need not be such a novel concept."
Lone Independence Party member Legislator Scot Stutzman agreed with Cornell's suggested approach, the release said.
''Redistricting is far too important of a process, only happening once every 10 years, to fall victim to this kind of political nonsense 'Working together' does not mean one party showing up at the eleventh hour with a self-serving map already in hand to hoodwink the other party - and with an illegal plan, no less," he said.
Legislator Paula DeJoy further backed the caucus' legal concerns: "We agree with County Attorney Steve Abdella that we should abide by municipal law and keep towns and villages as whole as possible. It makes sense and is in the best interest of the residents we serve to consider natural community boundaries," Legislator DeJoy said. "How can a legislator possibly well-represent a district with competing interests and needs?"
Legislator Tom DeJoe added that the Republican plan was drawn in such a way that in several cases, representatives of one municipality will represent another very dissimilar, distant municipality. In referencing several of the gerrymandered districts, he questioned "What does Villenova have in common with village of Fredonia? How can the residents of the village of Westfield be expected to relate to the residents of Findley Lake? How can we lump together the people of Lakewood with the people of Frewsburg? This plan undermines these residents' right to fair and equitable representation ... just to name a few."
Cornell concluded: "The Republican plan violates municipal law. Plain and simple. If it wasn't a law, and merely a guideline as Majority Leader Barmore has claimed in a recently published comment, it wouldn't be listed as such under state statute. And while I will not profess to be an attorney, I do take seriously my job as a legislator to do what's fair and right for my constituents - and in this case, that includes following the law first and foremost. This plan, if adopted, will certainly be challenged in court which will put us back to square one. It would be a shame to further set-back the county's progress toward legislature reduction. It would be an even further shame to open up taxpayers to footing that legal bill."