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Redistricting Panel Adds 9 New Districts; Chair Has Missed 10 Of Last 14 Meetings

August 31, 2021

The Michigan Independent Citizens Commission (MICRC) pushed out nine new state House districts after six hours of navigating through Washtenaw, Livingston and Ingham Counties in a region it’s deemed as South Central Michigan.

Although there is a total of 18 state House districts the MICRC has mapped up as of Tuesday, commissioners like Douglas Clark, a Rochester Hills Republican, shared concern of the progress still being premature — with racial and political breakdowns and communities of interest still yet to play a role in the map’s design.

“We’ve got two regions done over the last two days and that’s our target, and we’ve mapped them — but I need to probably clarify (that) the mapping was done for population only,” Clark told MIRS.

He explained the MICRC has a 10% tolerance deviation for modifying state Senate and House districts — meaning if there are 91,000 residents in a House district, the MICRC can adapt the lines to be either 5% above the 91,000 or 5% below.

“Of course, we haven’t gotten into the Detroit area yet, which will be a little more complex because of the significant number of people there. Ann Arbor and Lansing both were a little time consuming for us . . . to make sure that we get the districts right,” Clark said. “But then again, we’re going to go back and relook at them and apply other criteria at some point.”

Ian Sandler-Bowen, a student at the University of Michigan and self-described “redistricting dude,” took his criticisms of the mapmaking to Twitter, where he expressed concern that this population-first strategy could result in public misunderstanding and backlash.

“Because they are not going to be looking at any partisan data before they have completed a draft, I anticipate that when they do, they’ll see a disproportionate advantage to one of the parties, and they will have to adjust the map significantly to counteract that,” he tweeted. “I would expect certain bad-faith actors in the party that is losing its advantage will cry foul and attempt to muddy the water by claiming that the Commission is gerrymandering the map.”

He illustrated the outcry occurring when the MICRC attempts to repair the holes it left unattended to in its first round of drafts.

Some redistricting observers said the map’s 18th House district turns the 71st House district, a seat held by Angela Witwer(D-Delta Twp.) solidly GOP-favoring. It was designed by Steven Lett, a Northern Michigan independent, who attempted to create a logical arrangement configuration with Mason and Ingham Counties, while also pulling in West-side influences from Eaton and Barry Counties.

“(The) east of Barry and west of Eaton have been pretty closely tied together. If you’re looking at the (ruralness), a lot of the farmers are going into Eaton County for hauling their corn and beans, etc. . . ” Lett said at the meeting. “We’re trying to get the population within the limits for House districts. We made adjustments on the east side.”

Clark was also mentioned Tuesday in a press release from Progress Michigan, criticizing the commissioner for having conversations with two people from the Washington, D.C. area about potentially hiring the BakerHostetler national law firm for litigation counsel.

Mark Bradenof BakerHostetler is the previous chief counsel to the Republican National Committee. Activists from Progress Michigan and similar congregations have criticized BakerHostetler for its GOP connections and interactions with gerrymandering from state to state.

“The hiring of this Republican, gerrymandering law firm was contentious, with a litany of public comments opposed to the partisan hire. It appears Clark did not listen to those comments but put plenty of stock in his conversations with people from Washington D.C.,” said Sam Inglotof Progress Michigan in the press release.

On Monday, Progress Michigan announced it had filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the commission requesting access to “all communications about redistricting matters between any of the commissioners and any other person who is not a commissioner.”

Communications and Outreach Director Edward WoodsIII of the MICRC told MIRS that Clark talked to Kim Braceand John Morganof Election Data Services, which earned a finalized contract with the commission for line drawing and redistricting technical services.

“This is well within the guidelines,” Woods said.

During the public comment section, Commission Chair Brittni Kellom of Detroit — one of four Democrats serving on the 13-member panel — was spotlighted for missing numerous meetings.

Specifically, Kellom was absent for 10 of the past 14 meetings and did not attend any of the three map-drafting sessions to be held as of Tuesday.

“Being a fellow Wayne County resident, I see her as the best representation for me on the commission and have been concerned by her absence,” said Callie Burleyof Southgate. “My concern isn’t necessarily regarding her absence directly — I’m sure she has reasons why she can’t attend and I don’t need to know them, but more about the schedule itself.”

Bruley said if there’s a reason one commissioner consistently cannot make meetings, “the commission should be having more variety in meeting schedule times so that everyone has the opportunity to attend.”

“I’ve always appreciated commissioner Kellom’s presence and participation in the meetings and ask that the commission makes necessary scheduling updates to make sure all commissioners have the same opportunity to participate,” Bruley said.

Commissioners voted in Fall 2020 to compensate themselves at $55,755 annually, equating to 35% of the governor’s yearly salary.

Additionally, Kellom identifies as the only commissioner with a full-time occupation and is the primary caregiver to a family member. Woods also shared that Kellom was anticipated to attend Tuesday’s meeting but was involved in a car accident on the way to East Lansing, adding to MLive that the collision was not her fault and she was not injured.

Commissioner Rhonda Lange, a Reed City Republican, also participated in Tuesday’s panel virtually off of Zoom, claiming, “I’m not feeling good today and I’m here today just to make sure we have a quorum.”

Currently, the schedule for the MICRC devotes multiple days per week to designing initial drafts through Sept. 22. On Oct. 11, the commission will return to touring the state for residential input prior to voting on proposed maps on Nov. 5. From there, a 45-day period of public comment will commence and commissioners will have until Dec. 30 to formally adopt the maps.

In January, Commissioner Anthony Eid, a Detroit independent, suggested implementing an attendance requirement would be necessary in the future if a commissioner wanted “simply to collect a check and then never (show) up to the meetings at all.”

In a since deleted tweet, Eid expressed his attempt to implement an attendance requirement was voted down. He later shared in a statement that the tweet gave an incorrect impression of him being critical of Kellom’s attendance, which was “on the contrary” due to her openness and transparency.

“In proposing an attendance policy in January, I desired to ensure that the Commission benefitted from hearing the diverse voices of each commissioner,” Eid said.

Behind Kellom, Detroit Democrat Juanita Currymissed five meetings for 2021, Charlotte Republican Erin Wagner had four absences and Lange missed three.

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