10th map’s the charm: County Board approves new district map
By Heather Graves
BROWN COUNTY – The clock was ticking for Brown County to approve a new district map based on the 2020 Census, as the deadline for municipalities to draw their wards off of it was fast approaching.
“Time is the reason we have to vote on this soon,” District 24 Supervisor Richard Schadewald said.
Ten maps, a pair of public hearings, two County Board meetings and a handful of votes later, and the new map is set – 26 Supervisory Districts Map E-2 was approved with a 14-8 vote at a special meeting Sept. 22.
The decision came a week after the board rejected the six maps created by the seven-member Citizens Drafting Ad Hoc Committee – casting aside the culmination of nine months of work.
“If you do something for nine months that was authorized by the (County Board) and the County Board throws out the results, that, from a citizen’s point of view, looks funny, it raises questions,” De Pere Resident Robert Johnson said.
Maps are redrawn every 10 years to adjust district boundaries based on population changes.
Based on the 2020 Census, the county has seen a population increase of more than 20,000 since 2010, bringing the total to nearly 269,000.
The new map keeps the number of supervisory districts the same, but, some of the district boundaries changed.
This means some Brown County voters could find themselves voting in a new district with a different county supervisor.
Some of the concerns raised from those opposed to the E-2 map included: breaking up the Town of Scott, which has historically been kept together; District 8 crossing the Fox River; the Fox River Trail and parts of Astor Park no longer being a part of District 4; and an emphasis placed on not creating incumbent competition in the creation of the map.
“It seems like it’s a case of the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and it seems like the most squeaky wheels are really the supervisors protecting their districts and their own interests,” Citizens Drafting Ad Hoc Committee member Christine Seidl said.
Seidl said the committee did everything the board asked.
“One of the things we looked at was equal populations,” she said. “But, the board, they pushed population deviation to the constitutional legal limit.”
The constitutional legal limit refers to how many more residents may live in one district compared to another.
The map selected by the board has a population deviation of 9.7%, just under the constitutional legal limit of 10%.
It took a matter of days for county staff to create four new maps based on criteria brought forth by District 17 Supervisor John Van Dyck and District 9 Supervisor Pat Evans at the Sept. 15 meeting.
A night-before decision to add a possible vote to the Sept. 22 agenda ultimately led to a final vote that night, canceling the tentative Sept. 29 meeting, which was originally set for the vote.
“The main impetus to add the second option – approving of a tentative redistricting (plan/map) to the County Board agenda was the recognition that municipalities, who usually have 60 days after the county adopts a map to approve their municipal ward plans and send them back to the county, will now only have 2-3 weeks to do so, due to the late release of the census data by the federal government,” Corporation Counsel David Hemery said. “The concern was that if the County Board (waited) until Sept. 29 to vote on a map, then the municipalities would only have (had) 19 days to meet the Oct. 18 deadline – they need to draft their municipal ward plans and set and notice meetings, so having the extra week to get that done helps. They will now have 26 days, which is better than 19 days, but still much less than the 60 days the municipalities usually have.”
Those in support of the E-2 map thanked the planning staff for keeping district cores intact.
“The core of the districts are still there,” Evans said. “I do like that the aldermanic districts and the supervisor districts kind of line up. The variances are solid. The core of the districts is solid. Municipal boundaries are about as tightened as you can get. I think (this map) is really solid. I think this is the right map. This isn’t gerrymandering. The County Board doesn’t do gerrymandering. There are no big political parties driving any of us, or our staff or anything like that.”
Board Chair Pat Buckley said the current redistricting process started with the creation of Brown County Code of Ordinances Chapter 15: Redistricting Procedure, partly in response to a passed referendum calling for a nonpartisan procedure for legislative and congressional district map preparation.
The purpose of Chapter 15, according to the ordinance, is “to regulate the redistricting procedure in Brown County…” and “freedom from undue influence through the act known as ‘gerrymandering.’”
“(This was) an attempt by the County Board to get citizens involved to try to keep the process nonpartisan,” Buckley said. “This was the first attempt. They did their best. We appreciate what they’ve done. However, not having any input from the County Board supervisors, or even the municipalities, didn’t give them what they needed. Again, until you go through the process, you are going to have to (vet) some of this stuff out. So it wasn’t for nothing, as some of these people may think. We learned a lot about the process, what’s missing in Chapter 15. So, I would encourage in the next 10 years, we may want to revisit Chapter 15, so going forward in 2030, we have the ability to adapt to what the times are then, 10 years from now. I still say the committee did what they were put out to do. Unfortunately, in the creation of Chapter 15, a few things were missed… Hopefully, in 10 years, they’ll do better.”
The approved map includes criteria from Evans, which take into account where incumbents live and avoid contests between them – to the point of labeling incumbent residences with a red star on the map.
This is in direct contradiction to Chapter 15’s subcategory, Prohibition in Mapping Considerations, which states: “Locations of current supervisor residences should not be taken into consideration when drafting new maps.”
District 3 Supervisor Amanda Chu reminded supervisors of the conversation the board had on that issue a week earlier.
“I remember from last week some discussion on adding in priorities that protected current supervisors from competing with other supervisors,” Chu said. “It was almost like an ethics debate on whether that has any place in here. And I do remember some supervisors at that time making statements that they wouldn’t be in support of that… So just taking a moment to encourage us to call back that discussion that we had. When we add in the priority of maintaining core districts and making sure there is not a competition among the current seated supervisors, it moves, in my opinion, it moves into a gray space. And for that reason, I will not be voting for this map, because I think we have another option that does not prioritize that anywhere in the criteria a reference to current incumbents. We have other great, viable options.”
The approved map was immediately sent to county municipalities.
They now have until Oct. 18 to draw their own wards, approve them and send it back to the county.
Green Bay and De Pere then have until Nov. 10 to draw their aldermanic districts, approve them and send them to the county.
A final public hearing on the map will be held sometime between Nov. 3-10, with map publication set for Nov. 23.