County board supports nonpartisan redistricting, seeks advisory referendum

By Steve Sharp:

JEFFERSON — The Jefferson County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday an advisory referendum should be conducted related to the possibility of creating a nonpartisan redistricting commission.

Under current law, boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts must be redrawn every 10 years, after a census, in a process known as “redistricting.” The method by which redistricting occurs is governed by state law and in most cases, these district lines are drawn by state legislatures.

“This creates a serious conflict of interest, whereby legislators can draw the districts in such a way so as to give an unfair partisan advantage to both themselves and to the controlling party,” county officials wrote in their executive summary to the resolution they approved unanimously during a regular county board session for May.

Supervisors said this providing of unfair advantage, called “gerrymandering,” can have “a chilling effect” on democracy, because one political party can grant itself an artificial level of dominance over the political system.

“Some states have addressed gerrymandering by creating independent, nonpartisan commissions for redistricting. Wisconsin can adopt a similar method, but such a change can only be made by the state legislature,” the county wrote in its executive summary of the resolution.

The resolution that was approved authorizes Jefferson County to conduct a countywide advisory referendum to be held at the November 2020 general election that will also be used to elect the next president. The county’s executive committee considered this resolution at its meeting on April 24 and voted to forward it to the county board for approval.

“This will allow voters to communicate directly to the state legislature their views on the subject,” county officials said.

The cost of the referendum to the county will be $1,000 and some supervisors said this is a pittance compared to what it might cost if it was conducted at any other time than a presidential, general election.

The resolution was introduced by Supervisor Brandon White of Jefferson, who said the delineation of districts should not be a partisan issue.

“What it comes down to,” White said, “is that we cannot have the fox guarding the henhouse. Voters should pick their legislators. The legislators should not be picking the voters.”

Supervisor Dick Schultz of Fort Atkinson said he was ashamed both parties — including his — have used gerrymandering.

“It’s wrong and antithetical to what our republic is supposed to be about,” he said.

Jefferson County Administrator Ben Wehmeier gave a presentation on the status of the county’s strategic plan as it stood on Tuesday evening. He said the county is committed to seeing growth that is beyond state averages and this, if realized, could enhance the county’s fiscal position.

The plan will show Jefferson County has developed transportation and infrastructure options and ensures safety, public service and the well-being of all residents.

Another goal of the document is to expand communication about Jefferson County around the region to improve its reception and perception in outside circles, with the hope this can lead to increased tourism, and attract workers and new residents.

Wehmeier said the plan recognizes Jefferson County is known for its natural resources and parks, and it is the hope of county leaders that potential tourists, businesses and residents will recognize that “Jefferson County is a great place to live, work and play.”

The next steps for the strategic plan update will be a review and feedback session conducted by the county’s executive committee May 30.

“The strategic plan is really taking off,” Wehmeier said. “Tonight is the initial presentation of the plan to gauge ideas and we invite everyone to come to the May 30 meeting to provide feedback.”

The board approved a resolution accepting grant funding through the Crisis Stabilization Innovation Incentive Award for Long-Term Care and creating a full-time intake worker position at the Jefferson County Human Services Department.

During the first of two public input sessions Tuesday, Catherine Kleiber of Waterloo addressed the county board about her concerns related to radio frequency exposure she said will come as a result of supervisors’ recent approvals regarding broadband installation and expansion in the area.

“Adopting a resolution of this nature ...  is a very bad idea,” she said. “No public money should be spent to pollute the environment with such a dangerous agent.”

She called the broadband initiative similar to other “public health disasters” such as lead paint, asbestos, tobacco and radium. She urged a repeal of Broadband Forward ordinance changes.

She is in favor of having such services be presented as “wired.”

The board authorized the amending of a partnership agreement with Dodge County to provide more economic development services to that county at an appropriate rise in cost.

Amy Listle was installed as Jefferson County Fair Park director for an indeterminate period. Her dedication to the fair park over the years so far was recognized during the appointment.