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Friday, June 2, 2023
June 2, 2023

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Clark County redistricting process sent back to committee in 3-2 vote by council

Former committee member sues council

By , Columbian staff writer

The Clark County Council voted Tuesday to send the contentious process of determining council district boundaries back to the committee that previously failed to reach a decision on the issue.

The 3-2 vote came after the county was sued by former redistricting committee member Janet Landesberg.

Landesberg, one of two Democrats appointed to the committee by the county council, is seeking to have a judge further define the county charter, reconvene the redistricting committee to complete their work and limit the county council’s changes to any map by no more than 2 percent — and only if it could muster a two-thirds majority vote to do so.

Councilors Julie Olsen, Temple Lentz and Gary Medvigy voted to send the process back to the committee. Councilor Karen Bowerman and Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien were opposed.

“We’re sending this back to a committee a person from which has filed suit. I think that’s a ridiculous place to send it in my view,” Quiring O’Brien said. “I feel for the individuals who want to run for office and have no idea what district they will be in.”

Long process

After months of work, the redistricting committee failed to reach a two-thirds majority vote on a single map by its Dec. 31 deadline. Updating the county’s district boundaries was required by the county charter to adjust for new Census population counts and by the passage of a five-district map by voters in November.

Map B2, favored by Democrats, received three votes while map A2, favored by Republicans, received two votes. However, four votes were needed to formally present either map to the council. Instead, both maps were sent to the council so it could decide the new boundaries.

Olson said the redistricting committee should never have turned the decision over to the council. She also faulted the redistricting master, the county staff member from the geographic information services department responsible for producing the maps for the committee.

“The charter makes it really clear about how many maps should be submitted, and it’s one,” Olson said. “One by the redistricting master to the committee, and then the committee shall adopt a map.”

Olson also said it would be premature and irresponsible for the council to continue moving forward given the pending lawsuit.

Lentz also said it was premature for the council to consider any of the maps. She said the entire redistricting process had been corrupted from the beginning.

“I think a much wiser decision for the council to make as a whole would be to go back, and whether it’s reform the redistricting committee and ask them to do their work according to the charter, or ask the redistricting master to submit one map as should have been done … in the first place,” Lentz said.

Seeking clarity

Medvigy said he thought sending the matter back to the committee was a great option and one that was  never provided to the council by its legal advisers from the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

“There is no good way to go forward. Absolutely none because the charter is so devoid of details as to how the committee should have proceeded,” Medvigy said. “We don’t know, now that the committee is gone, … whether they’ll take the issue back. We’ll find out soon.”

Bowerman said the existing time constraints made returning the work to the redistricting committee an unrealistic alternative. Lentz disagreed.

“While I understand the concerns about time, there’s a greater concern which is that we get this right. This is the first time that this process is occurring in Clark County after the process was put into the charter. And it’s been a mess from the very beginning,” Lentz said.

When Lentz claimed Quiring O’Brien had interfered in the selection of redistricting committee members, Quiring O’Brien cut her off.

“You stop. You’re not going to disparage any member of this council by naming them and saying that they did the wrong thing. Keep your comments very vanilla, please. I will not accept the kind of besmirching that is happening at this moment,” Quiring O’Brien said.

Medvigy said the county doesn’t have time to go back to the beginning and form a new redistricting committee. Hopefully, the judge in the lawsuit will provide some clarity to the charter and redistricting process, he said.

“We should have brought suit on behalf of the voters after the ballot measure came back. That didn’t happen because there was no lawyer out there representing the voters,” Medvigy added.

The county will retain outside counsel to represent it in the lawsuit, which Medvigy said he hoped would be able to advise the redistricting committee as well.

Lawsuit will continue

Despite the council’s vote, Landesberg said she would continue with her lawsuit because the charter and redistricting process still need to be clarified.

“I want the judge to interpret the statute and direct the committee to apply the statute as it was written. I want the redistricting master to pick a map,” she said. “You have to pick a map. Period. And if you’re not willing to pick a map, we need to go to GIS and find someone else who will do it.”

Landesberg, who is retired from the federal judiciary and practiced law in Virginia and Washington, D.C., said she brought the suit after Auditor Greg Kimsey reminded the council at an earlier meeting that the new district maps were needed before the next regular election.

“He made it clear even during our meetings how the Elections Office really needed this done so they could do their job,” Landesberg said in an interview. “That’s what motivated me was his pleas to get it done.”

Waiting for the council to decide on a map and then challenging it in court would have only delayed the process more, she said.  Landesberg also said the legal process defined by the county charter was never provided to the redistricting committee.

“You can’t let us flounder and do it wrong and they say ‘Oops, we can’t apply the law because you did it wrong,’ ” Landesberg said.

While she couldn’t speak for the other members of the committee, Landesberg said she is absolutely ready and willing to reconvene to finish the work.