ROCHESTER — Olmsted County Commissioners responded to social media comments Tuesday after receiving limited in-person comment regarding the proposed new district boundaries.
“You may have seen or heard some people accuse our planning department of blatant gerrymandering in some of the maps, and as you have now heard from the consultant we hired, not a word of that is true”, said Commissioner Ken Brown. , referring to a legal analysis provided on the basis of six cartographic options.
Attorney Kate Swenson of Minneapolis-based Greene Espel said each of the six proposals aligned with state and federal requirements when setting new district boundaries.
She discussed the proposed maps based on requirements to draw borders, balance populations and maintain voters’ rights and said there was nothing that would cause the maps to be rejected.
Commissioner Jim Bier said he was offended by some of the comments online about the process.
“I don’t usually read this nonsense on Twitter, but it bothered me this time,” he said, without addressing any specific comments or messages.
None of the 13 written comments or statements from the two speakers during Tuesday afternoon’s public hearing appeared to directly state allegations of improper actions.
District lines are to be redrawn based on Olmsted County’s demographic changes identified in the 2020 U.S. Census, but Planning Director Ben Griffith said the existing 2012 county district map largely meets the federal mandates.
“With the exception of dividing the boundaries of several electoral districts in the city of Rochester, this would come very close to meeting the minimum legal requirements, but barely,” he told county commissioners.
While federal regulations require district populations to remain within 10% of 23,264, which is the ideal population of the seven individual districts, Griffith said county staff chose to narrow the gaps to below 5%. .
Additionally, he said the county is going beyond state and federal requirements by not dividing census blocks and by seeking to maintain areas of interest defined in Rochester’s previous redistricting efforts, as well as by now neighborhood associations in a single district when possible.
Amy Caucutt, a member of the Rochester chapter of the League of Women Voters, said the group appreciated the extra effort.
“We have watched the process diligently since it began, and even back to census time,” she said, citing her appreciation for limiting population gaps in maps.
Caucutt, a retired county employee, said league members had preferences among the six proposals.
“We believe Maps 4 and 5 provide the best opportunity for effective minority representation, with both maps giving District 3 (at least) 33% minority representation,” she said.
Rochester resident Jim Frost said he believed the league was influenced by Rochester residents who wanted to ensure five commissioners were elected from within Rochester.
“I believe each of the cards gives Rochester all the representation it deserves and all it should have,” he said.
Frost, who is married to Commissioner Stephanie Podulke, said County Council needs four votes to pass a measure, meaning Rochester-centric issues will potentially get enough votes with maps that maintain four districts outright. within the city limits.
Maps 4 and 5 are closest to guaranteeing that five commissioners will be residents of Rochester.
Bier, who represents a district that includes northwest Rochester, Byron and rural areas west of Rochester, said serving a combined district has shaped his decisions during his 20 years as commissioner.
“When I started, 68% of my constituents lived in the city of Rochester. Right now, under the current plan, I think it’s about 74%,” he said, adding that the mix required him to seek to represent all interests throughout the county.
If Map 4 or 5 passes, Bier, who lives in Kalmar Township, would find himself in District 7 with Commissioner Mark Thein, potentially putting the commissioners in office on the same November ballot.
While Thein said he plans to seek re-election if needed, Bier has not officially said whether he will seek another term.
Thein is the only commissioner who may not be required to stand for re-election in November, according to the map passed next week.
District 7 has less than 5% population change across four maps, which means state regulations would allow it to complete the four-year term it won in 2020.
Bier, Podulke and Commissioner Gregg Wright, who were also elected in 2020, face population changes of more than 5% in each proposed map, meaning they will have to run for office again in November to retain their seats.
The commissioners will select the county’s new official district map at a special meeting at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, April 26 in the boardrooms of the Government Center, 151 Fourth St. SE.
The final map must be submitted to the state by April 28.