Monday, October 02, 2006

County Exec Mark Harris' Statement on Not Vetoing the Board Resizing

Because of the high interest and controversial nature of resolution 89-92006 (Reduce size of Winnebago County to 36 members) I am taking the unusual step of issuing this press release to explain why I am not vetoing the resolution.

There are four primary issues, which I considered in order to make my decision.
1) Was the Board action consistent with the provisions and intent of the 2005 Wisconsin Act 100?
2) Would the districts created by the reduction of two board seats create an indefensible disparity in population?
3) Was the Board’s vote so inconsistent with the sentiments of the underlying districts or so injurious to the County to warrant reversal of a majority vote?
4) Is there any redress for the citizens whose efforts to reduce the Board have been blocked without a vote of the electorate?

Under the rules of construction one must assign a reasonable interpretation to the language of a statute and all language must be assigned some meaning. Act 100 seems to deliberately provide for a race to the courthouse scenario. It provides “If the number of supervisors in a county is decreased by the Board or by petition under this paragraph, no further action may be taken by the board or by petition … until after enactment of the next decennial supervisory district plan.” Clearly the Boards action was within the rule in the statute. Had the petition to reduce the Board to 19 been completed and filed with the Clerk first, Board action would have been blocked.

It is believed that a 36 district plan that can not change ward boundaries would have a population deviation of as much as 15.8%. This is clearly beyond the 10% that is generally regarded as a safe harbor for minor deviations and it creates a prima facie case of discrimination. However, in the recent case Frank V Forrest County 336F.3rd 570 an 18% deviation was upheld. The deviation here arises from
the provisions of a poorly drafted state statute that does not allow changes in underlying wards. It is unlikely that the districting would loose a challenge unless the statute is found to be unconstitutional. If the statute were thrown out then no change in districts would be allowed between decennial census.

On close examination it appears that the majority of Board members who voted in favor of the reduction to 36 districts represent rural or northern districts. In those districts there is little apparent interest in reducing board size. There seems to be strong sentiments against a reduction of board size in many rural districts. Further I cannot identify any significant injury to the County from their action.

The citizens that seek a large reduction in and reform of the Board can further their cause through electing reform minded candidates in the 2008 and 2010 elections. Even the sponsors of resolution 89-92006 support the continued efforts of the temporary committee and are willing to give fair consideration to board reforms to improve efficiency. They do not however support a large reduction in the Board and believe that their districts oppose such reductions.

While I would have preferred either a reduction to 25 board members or allowing the citizens to proceed with their petition drive, I do not find sufficient justification to cast a veto.


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