ROCHESTER — Two of Olmsted County’s seven commissioner districts remain unchanged in a new district map adopted Tuesday.
The county was required to redraw district boundaries in an effort to balance populations in each district after the 2020 U.S. Census.
While District 2, represented by Commissioner Ken Brown, in North Rochester and District 7, represented by Commissioner Mark Thein in part of Rochester and areas north and east of the city, are unchanged , the other Commissioner’s Districts experienced population changes of at least 1,000 people.
The biggest change has been in District 6, which covers most of southwest Rochester. More than 8,000 residents have moved in or out of the neighborhood.
Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden, who represents the district, emphasized the people served rather than the geographic territory.
“It’s a county-wide service area,” she said, pointing to social services and other programs that serve all county residents.
She said projects and programs in a single district are rare.
His statement came after other commissioners cited online comments and personal notes from residents calling for a district map that would place four commissioners in districts that included only Rochester residents.
She said such calls appear to be driven by urban-rural divides turned partisan, rather than reflecting the county’s actual work.
“I really think we’ve struck the right rural-urban balance,” she said.
Commissioner Stephanie Podulke, who serves District 1 in the heart of Rochester, agreed, pointing out that the role of commissioners is not limited to where they live.
“What districts do is give voters a starting point when they have questions,” she said.
Podulke will see nearly 4,000 people move to his district of Kiscaden as 1,400 will move from District 1 to District 3, which is represented by Commissioner Gregg Wright.
As Plan 1 of six options presented by the County Planning Department, the new map maintains three districts within Rochester’s city limits. A fourth district has 98.9% of its population in the city, and a fifth has 65.4% of the district’s residents within Rochester’s borders.
Commissioner Matt Flynn, who serves Rural District 4 which will continue to have the fewest voters in Rochester, said he also thinks the adopted map strikes a good balance for the county.
“We are county commissioners, not individual district commissioners,” he said, echoing the sentiments of his fellow commissioners.
Commissioners said it was difficult to respond to calls for more diversity in districts because the county’s non-white population is spread across the map.
Of the six proposals, the highest percentage of non-white residents in a single district was 36%.
The adopted map maintains District 2 with a non-white population of 33.8%, followed by District 1 at 32.7%.
Brown said all maps were found to meet federal and state requirements by an impartial attorney hired to review the results.
“It does not disenfranchise a single voter or resident,” he said.
Commissioner Jim Bier, whose District 5 is split between western Rochester and areas west of the city including Byron, said it was possible to represent a mix of urban and rural residents.
“It really upsets me when I hear that I don’t represent Rochester,” he said.
Highlighting six elections for county office, he said he only lost two precincts to challengers, which he considers essential since 68.3% of his district’s residents live in Rochester.
According to the new map, the percentage will drop to 65.4%, with 14.3% of the geographic area within the city limits.
“It would be easy to get me out,” said the rural Byron resident, noting that unsuccessful efforts show he has maintained support from Rochester voters.
The map changes mean that six of the seven county commissioner seats will be on the November ballot. Only Thein from District 7 will retain his seat without an election.
Of the three commissioners who have already faced potential re-election, Brown and Flynn announced they would not seek another term, but Kiscaden said she plans to run.
Bier, Podulke and Wright won re-election in 2020, but population displacement of more than 5% in each of their districts makes new elections necessary this year.
Wright said he plans to run again, and Podulke said she plans to announce she won’t.
Bier has previously stressed his intention to step down from elective office, but said on Tuesday he was considering a new campaign: “I haven’t decided.”
To maintain staggered terms for commissioners, Districts 1, 3 and 5 will see elections for two-year terms, while elections in Districts 2, 4 and 6 will be for four-year terms.
The filing period for county offices is May 17 to May 31, with a primary election on August 9 scheduled to narrow down candidates, if necessary. General elections are scheduled for November 8.