Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Redistricting ousts Rivas; Duneland gets all of shoreline

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Porter County Commissioners voted unanimously to redraw the four County Council districts and move the home precinct of Jeremy Rivas’ out of the 2nd District he currently represents on the Council.

According to the ordinance adopted by the Commissioners, Rivas would now reside in the fourth Council district meaning he would have to vie for the seat Council member Jim Polarek, R-4th, occupies in the 2014 county elections.

But Rivas said he still plans to run for District 2. He told reporters after the meeting he plans to move to one of the precincts in the new second district in the next few months. That will qualify him to keep his seat as candidates can run in a Council district as long as they have lived in the district for at least six months.

“District 2 is my district. That’s where I grew up. That’s where my family is from,” said Rivas who blamed politics for his being bounced from his district. “There is something wrong with Porter County government. That is not how it is supposed to work,” he said.

County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, gave a lengthy statement before voting on the ordinance, explaining that the new districts his board came up with follow the Indiana state code decreeing that existing districts must be as close to equal in population as possible. The plan “as much as possible, identifies and respects communities of interest” keeping them in the same district, he added.

“It is the legal duty and moral obligation of the Board of Commissioners to assure that the citizens in those districts have equal representation as nearly as possible,” Evans said.

In his statement, Evans fired back at the criticisms rained on him by Democrats, County Council members and media editorials that claimed the Commissioners were rushing the process.

The Commissioners got another earful during a public hearing when two Democrats spoke out against the ordinance. Porter resident Jennifer Klug said that copies of the ordinance should have been made available to the public with enough time to study it making them more able to discuss the process in an open setting, while Portage Twp. Trustee Brandon Clancy said he found the Commissioners’ actions “unprofessional” and distressing to people in both parties considering candidacy.

“We know nothing about these numbers,” Clancy said.

Evans said he found the concerns about fairness “interesting” and likened the situation to the time the Council districts were last redrawn in 2001. He was in the Republican minority on the Commissioner board, which also approved the new lines less than 45 days before candidate filings. He said that instead of voting against he voted favorably on a motion that resulted in the Republicans losing a seat on the County Council in the following election.

“The 2001 redistricting was done in strict compliance with the law, and I voted for it,” said Evans. “I took my responsibility seriously.”

Evans said he also wanted to state clearly that redistricting does not take away anyone’s right to run for office nor does it impede anyone’s right to vote. He said that redistricting would not change the polling places for any voter, although it does change who is on the ballot in those precincts affected by redistricting.

After catching flack for making changes this late in the year, Evans said the Commissioners had first looked into redistricting at the end of 2011 but were delayed due to a request by the Voters Registration office. The matter didn’t resurface until a letter from the Association of Indiana Counties received by the Commissioners in mid-October informing them of the risk of a lawsuit, which was made public at the following Commissioners meeting.

In another point of contention, Evans said he refutes Rivas’ and others’ comments, made during an earlier public hearing, that the districts should be left as they are since according to one set of data the districts were still within the limit of 10 percent or less for population variance. The problem with that, he said, is that the law says the districts must be made as equal as possible in population and failure to do so could lead to a lawsuit.

Evans said the district Council members could have called for redistricting at any time in the last two years, but never called for a meeting.

Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, backed Evans’ statement, saying the Indiana Supreme Court would not allow for the population variance to reach over 10 percent.

“It is important to make sure our citizens have equal representation. Our goal is to find an ideal population for the districts,” she said.

Adams pointed to the fact the District 1, containing the Duneland communities, has been under-sized for some time as Portage and Valparaiso have seen population booms.

District breakdowns

But now District 1 will have a population of 41,764, a variance of only 1.65 percent of the average district populations. It will include all precincts of Jackson, Liberty and Pine Twps. and all precincts in Westchester Twp. with the exception of precinct 17, which will be located in District 2.

Portage Twp. precincts 4 and 6 will be in District 1 as well as Center Twp. precincts 11 and 25.

The Portage Twp. precincts will extend District 1 all the way to the Lake County line, taking in the Lake Michigan shoreline, while most of District 2 will be contained within the Portage city limits.

“The lakefront communities are now joined,” said Evans, who felt that Ogden Dunes had more in common with Dunes Acres and Beverly Shores than South Haven.

For District 2, with a population of 41,650, all Portage Twp. precincts will be included, with the exception of precincts 4, 6, 15, 28, 22 and will include Westchester precinct 17.

For District 3, with a population of 40,453, all Center Twp. precincts will be included with the exceptions of precincts 11 and 25.

For District 4, with a population of 40,476, all precincts located in Boone, Morgan, Pleasant, Porter, Washington, and Union Twps. will be included, along with Portage precincts 15, 28, and 33.

Nine out of the twelve townships remain undivided, Evans noted, and some division was required of three townships in order to get the desired level of equal distribution.

Bipartisan Vote

The board’s only Democrat, County Commissioner Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South, voted with the Republicans, saying that the districts couldn’t be left as they were, at about 10 percent deviation, because with the population still shifting rapidly, it won’t be long before those districts would be out of compliance with the law.

The proposal followed the basic requirements of the law in that the districts are compact in respect to natural boundaries, the districts contain as nearly as possible equal populations and townships are mostly together.

“It’s our job to follow the law,” Blaney said.

The only reason to cast a no vote in this case would be for political reasons and “Porter County deserves better than that,” she said.

The Commissioners voted 3-0 to waive the requirements for a second reading on the ordinance.

 

 

Posted 12/18/2013