County Redistricting Plan Described as 'Vindictive'
City, suburban leaders considering legal challenge; Milwaukee mayor calls for independent redistricting committee.
The Milwaukee County Board's proposed redistricting plan drew widespread criticism at a meeting in Whitefish Bay Wednesday night as well as calls for County Executive Chris Abele to veto the measure.
Joe Rice, the county supervisor who has represented most of the North Shore since 2004, was beaming after the meeting. The redistricting plan reduces the size of the board from 19 to 18, and eliminates his seat.
"Can you remember any issue where there has been so much agreement?" Rice asked a reporter after a meeting at the Whitefish Bay Women's Club that attracted more than 150 people.
Indeed, the preliminary redistricting plan approved by the County Board on April 21 has generated a firestorm of criticism and threats of legal action.
The heart of the criticism is that the board did not fulfill its statutory requirements to consult with communities before acting.
Franklin Mayor Tom Taylor, chairman of the Intergovernmental Cooperation Council, which represent all county communities, said suburban and city leaders voted unanimously to hire a lawyer to determine if the board had followed the law before adopting the preliminary plan.
"We were not at all sure that we were on solid ground when we started talking about it," Taylor said. "Some of the county supervisors were laughing at us for challenging it."
State law requires the County Board seek appropriate input from the communities it serves before formulating a plan. Only two public hearings — one midday in the middle of the week and the other at 5 p.m. on a Friday — were held. Rice said he wasn't consulted about the plan in advance.
Rice filed a lawsuit last week saying the County Board violated the state Open Meetings Law by failing to provide notice of what they were adopting. Lawyers for the county said the procedure was appropriate and the Wisconsin Attorney General's office deferred to the county on the matter.
Rice is asking that action be voided, that his legal fees be paid and that County Board Chairman Lee Holloway be fined the maximum $300.
Earlier, county officials said there was little chance the plan would be significantly changed before its final adoption, which is required to be done by Oct. 1. The plan was sent to the cities and villages so they can redraw ward boundaries to facilitate the county plan.
City and suburban leaders have been joined by the NAACP, the Hispanic community, the Greater Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Milwaukee Committee in telling the County Board to go back to the drawing board.
Taylor told the crowd that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has proposed the creation of an independent redistricting committee with no elected officials as members. The idea has received the unanimous support of the ICC.
The preliminary plan reduces the size of the full-time board from 19 to 18 members with Rice's district being the only one eliminated. Rice, a self-described conservative, advocated a more drastic reduction reducing. He also called for an ethics investigation of County Board Chairman Lee Holloway.
Charles Mulcahy, a lawyer who served on the board some 30 years ago, said the redistricting "was a vindictive plan directed at Joe Rice. It's as if they were saying, 'We have the power and we are going to get rid of the people we don't like.' "
Nathaniel Holton, political action chairman for the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP, said he had urged the County Board to have a transparent process in adopting the plan.
"As it turns out, they didn't take my advice," Holton said. "It's a quasi-corrupt process when politicians are in control of the process."
Currently, Rice's 6th District includes all of Whitefish Bay, Fox Point, River Hills and Bayside, as well as parts of Glendale and Milwaukee. The plan will divvy up the existing district among three others. Rice, who lives in Whitefish Bay, will be in Gerry Broderick's district, which encompasses Shorewood and Milwaukee's East Side.
Victor Huyke, editor of El Conquistador and former president of Citizens for Responsible Government, said he supports reducing the board to between five and nine members.
Rob Henken of the Public Policy Forum, who was moderator of the event, noted that reducing the number of districts would make running more expensive and questioned whether it would make it more difficult for proportionate minority representation.
When an audience member asked how the plan could be stopped, the panel members agreed that opponents should contact Abele and urge him to veto the measure.
Taylor said there is such widespread concern about the redistricting plan that similar meetings are being planned, including one that Wauwatosa Mayor Jill Didier has agreed to host.