A roll call was not taken for the reapportionment straw poll questions asked by McHenry County Board Chairman Ken Koehler.
Just a series of hand raising.
What you see above is a good indication that the size of the county board will not be cut.
Another raising of the hands indicated that a clear majority favor keeping six districts.
Several board members spoke in favor of a smaller board.
Pete Merkel suggested eighteen or twenty. He pointed out that Kane County was considering cutting its number. If the size were to remain 24, he favored either eight districts of three people or twelve with two each.
“When I first got on the board, I wondered why we had four people representing a district.”
But he really wanted a smaller board.
“We’re all good Republicans, most of us…” at which time laughter erupted in the room.
He was not in favor of twenty-four single-member districts.
Barb Wheeler agreed with Merkel that cutting the number on the board to twenty would be a good idea.
She favored single-member districts. In Lake County there are twenty-three districts.
“Everyone knows who their board member is.”
Democrat Kathy Bergan Schmidt wants twenty single-member districts. She pointed to campaign cost savings. To those who had extolled the current system of having one member from each district on pretty much each committee, she observed, “We can some up with another committee system.”
She also thought it would make the job a little easier with about twelve precincts per district.
“You (wouldn’t) have to have a private fortune or a good fund raising machine,” she pointed out.
“Newspaper aren’t what they used to be. We don’t get much coverage.
“A mailing costs you a small fortune.”
She argued that multi-member districts “makes for a less diverse group of county board members.”
Schmidt also pointed out that most of the large counties in Illinois have single-member districts or two-member districts.
“We should not be out of line.”
She also wanted to see some maps.
“Every ten years we have this wonderful opportunity to re-invent ourselves,” Donna Kurtz said.
She wants smaller districts so people can have “a personal relationship with their county board member.
“Pete hit the ball and hit it out of the park when he came up with two-member districts.”
Kurtz pointed out that 24,000-constituent districts, rather than 50,000-person ones would
- increase out own accountability and
- allow us to do more with less
Wonder Lake’s John Hammerand supported keeping 24 members. In fact, he would support more, if state law would allow them.
He pointed out, if there were fewer, it would take people away from the full-time jobs.
He told of the gold bathroom fixtures in the Cook County Board’s complex.
Hammerand favored staying on township line, but thought that school district boundaries should be considered.
“I see nothing wrong with the size of out districts,” Union’s Randy Donley said.
“I can get across District 6 faster than people can get across Crystal Lake.”
His choice of size was twelve members with salaries set at “$40,000 to keep up with other counties.
“I know many board members agree privately.”
That “would attract a different element to the board.”
“The older I get, I realize that the more things change, the worse things get,” Ersel Schuster from Seneca Township said.
Of the apportionment of the county board, she observed, “It’s not broken.”
She said she’d be willing to look at two-member districts. She noted it would make it easier to run for office. And it would probably be a little less expensive if you broke it up into single-member districts.
McHenry’s Sandy Salgado said she “really like(d) Pete’s idea of two-member districts.”
She pointed out that Richmond and Spring Grove were quite different from the McHenry and Wonder Lake portions of her district.
She described that her constituents had told her it “was a pain in the neck to have to call four people.”
She joined Schmidt in wanting to see a map.
Reacting to the proposal for $40,000 salaries, McHenry’s Sandy Salgado said, “I don’t know if that would attract the caliber of people you’d like to have.”
McHenry’s Nick Provenzano emphasized the advantages of having one member from each district on each committee.
“I think we should have been talking about this a year ago,” he said. Consideration should be given now to the governance of McHenry County when we reach 500,000, 750,000, a million people.
He wanted to know if there would be full-time county board members with district offices and staff.
“I think we’re underestimating the amount of time it’s going to take to draw a map.”
Lake in the Hill’s Paula Yensen, the second Democrat on the county board, pointed out she was the only one who represented the lower part of District 5.
“If you think we’re going to save money by having fewer districts, I really need to be convinced.”
Veteran Bull Valley member Virginia Peschke reflected on having represented all of McHenry County, except for Algonquin, Nunda and McHenry Townships when she ran the first time. Then there were only three county board districts of eight members each.
All of the above took place in a Committee of the Whole meeting that ran from 6 o’clock to about 7:15.
Thereafter was a regular county board meeting at which Dr. Mike Fortner, an expert in statistics and reapportionment and, incidentally, a state representative from West Chicago explained the elements of redistricting.
Population could deviate as much as 10% from the smallest to the largest district, he pointed out.
The county board had previously agreed that the difference should not be more than 3%. That would mean the largest district could be 3,000 more people than the smallest.
Although there has been a rapid growth in the Hispanic population, he has concluded that that “population does not yet rise to the level that meets the need for special redistricting treatment.”
He found no precinct in McHenry County where Hispanics were a majority.
Fortner, a professor at Northern Illinois University, talked of the role geography could play.
He told of the many measures used to define “compact,” mentioning that road and bridge connections might be relevant.
He also said political criteria could be taken into account, e.g., partisan election returns.
“Incumbent protection” came to mind.
Salgado asked about the Iowa method were staffers use computers to draw maps, regardless of where legislators live.
Fortner pointed out that criteria for the process were outlined in Iowa state law.
“It’s hard to know where to start except by starting with existing districts.”
Salgado wanted to see what a two-member district map would look like.
“We’d like to have that go through the Legislative Committee,” Chairman Koehler interjected.
“What if it didn’t meet that committee’s consensus?” Salgado asked.
“Where would that leave me? Nowhere?”
In the Committee of the Whole meeting, she noted, she hadn’t gotten very far with that idea.
Yensen agreed she would like to see some maps.
Hammerand expressed his displeasure at having to consider race. “It should be voters and citizens in the United States, which they don’t have to be…We should not be looking at the color of people’s skins.”
Later Fortner explained that the post-Civil War 15th Amendment is the hook that Congress hung the Voting Rights Act on.
Fortner is being paid $150 per hour and has worked four hours so far. Since the contract is less than $10,000, no board approval was needed, County Administrator Peter Austin explained.
Looking at the six McHenry County districts, Fortner said three needed adjustment.