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State appellate court to review written responses to local apportionment committee decision

Answering the appeals

June 17, 2011
By JOHN PEPIN - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - Marquette County Apportionment Committee Chairman Gary Walker is drafting legal briefs to respond, on behalf of the panel, to two appeals challenging the committee's redistricting plan adopted last month.

The committee has until Monday to respond to appeals filed earlier this month by Marquette Township Supervisor Dennis Liimatta and Marquette County Townships Association President William Luetzow, who filed their appeals as private citizens, with the backing of their boards.

On May 6, after meeting three times, the five-member apportionment committee adopted its new redistricting plan, which dropped the number of county commissioner districts from nine to six.

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The committee was composed by statute of county Prosecuting Attorney Gary Walker, Treasurer Anne Giroux, Clerk Connie Branam, Republican Party Chairman Dan Adamini and Democratic Party Chairman Ben Bohnsack.

At a meeting of the committee Thursday, Walker said that on apportionment matters, the appellate court exclusively considers written appeals and responses.

"There's no oral argument on these appeals," Walker said. "The Court of Appeals hears these on brief only."

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Walker sought support Thursday from the committee for his responding on behalf of the panel.

"We would simply represent ourselves," Walker said. "We have no money for counsel."

Walker said he thought it would be unlikely the Marquette County Board would provide funding to the committee for its legal representation. The Luetzow appeal is strongly supported by the Marquette County Board, with its contents produced by a law firm hired by the board.

"What I will do is file a written answer," Walker said.

Walker said Liimatta's appeal "does a very credible job" of explaining that splitting the township in two and combining those sections with the city of Marquette dilutes the township.

Walker said he plans to respond to that appeal by saying the committee had considered a five-district plan which did not split any townships, but ultimately voted for the six-district plan, which had a lower statistical population variance and also meets the tenets of the apportionment statute.

Luetzow's appeal alleges the committee's apportionment plan violated state law because it reduced the number of commissioners "to affect partisan political advantage" and "without other valid reasoned purpose," resulted in "splitting Marquette Township into multiple divisions" and violated the Open Meetings Act.

Walker said he plans to respond that the committee did not violate the Open Meetings Act, nor draw district lines affecting any partisan advantage.

Adamini asked that the committee members have a chance to read Walker's response before he submits it. Adamini was approving of Walker's expected responses, but wanted to review them, otherwise likening the situation to voting on a bill without reading it. Giroux and Bohnsack concurred that seeing the response before it is filed would be ideal. Walker was still working on his responses Thursday.

A motion by Branam was unanimously approved at the meeting. Under the measure's terms, Walker was to email copies of his responses to the committee members. If any objections are raised, a meeting of the committee will be held at 10 a.m. Monday to iron out differences. If there are no problems, Walker will submit the documents to the appellate court and the meeting will not be held.

Bohnsack read a somewhat lengthy statement about his involvement with the committee. He concluded that the process the panel used to create its plan was conducted appropriately.

"I stand by our work and believe it will be upheld by the appellate court," Bohnsack said.

Walker shared a list of apportionment results from other Michigan counties, saying only one county increased its number of districts; 24 reduced theirs, the rest remained the same. Many of those counties that lowered the number of districts had county population increases.

During public comment, Marquette County Commissioner Bruce Heikkila said he was "sad" the committee didn't make computer software technology available to create the apportionment plans, rather than trying to work it out manually.

Luetzow said constituents in the townships are concerned the redistricting plan cut the number of commissioners, with reduces representation.

"The consensus out there from the people, from the rural areas, is representation," Luetzow said.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.



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