2001-05-24 Grand Haven Tribune County board opts against status quo

County board opts against status quo
Grand Haven Tribune

WEST OLIVE - The makeup of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners will change in 2002, after the future of the currently all-Republican board was determined Wednesday by the swing vote of a Democrat. Ottawa County Democratic Party Chair John O’Brien played the wild card in a series of three motions voted on by the Ottawa County Reapportionment Board.

The motions narrowed the number of commissioner districts being considered to 11 and 15. A motion to consider 13 commissioner districts, the current composition for the board, was defeated 3-2. Public commentary has largely favored remaining at 13 commissioners.

“My view is that we’ve experimented with 13 commissioners over the last 10 years and we should continue,” said Hudsonville resident Denis Greyson. The five-member reapportionment board is charged with redrawing the lines of county commissioner districts according to 2000 census population figures.

The board also decides how many commissioners will represent the county. The possible range runs from five to 21 commissioners. The board was divided into two camps. County Treasurer Mary Richardson and county Clerk Dan Krueger favored a going down to 11. Ottawa County Republican Party Chair jack Holmes and county Prosecuting Attorney Ron Frantz called for remaining at 13 or increasing to 15.

Richardson said the maps for 11 commissioner districts best represented the county. She said that she sought out the opinion of people of f the street on the issue. “I found not only a willingness to look at 11,” she said,” I found more often a desire to go to seen or nine.”

County commissioners should represent broad districts, Richardson said, because the county provides broad services, such as the park system. Richardson’s view appeared to have won the day at first. During the public comment period there was a litany of speakers calling for representation to remain at the status quo.

Former Ottawa County Republican Party Chair Tom DePree said the board often squabbled when it was an 11-member group and that the board had flourished in the past 10 years with 13 commissioners. The jump in commissioners also allowed for more minority representation, DePree said, specifically in the Holland area.

After the public comment period, Holmes motioned for 13 commissioners. “I do not see any compelling reason for going up or down,” he said. The motion was defeated with “no” votes from Krueger, Richardson and O’Brien.

Richard then motioned for 11 commissioners and the vote carried 3-2 with Holmes and Frantz dissenting. O’Brien’s vote proved decisive with the other members remaining consistent. The board then took a brief break. Some people left the meeting believing the issue decided.

DePree was taken aback. “I don’t think they have any sense of what we accomplished,” DePree said of the move to 13 commissioners a decade earlier.

Holmes said after the meeting that the movement for 13 commissioners was doomed by the lack of time the reapportionment board spent looking at maps with 13 districts. The issue was not completely put to rest, though. After the break, O’Brein made a motion to consider 15 commissioner districts. The motion carried 3-1 with Krueger dissenting.

Frantz, who submitted the map for 15 commissioner districts, said it represented all areas well and did not overextend districts geographically the way the maps with 11 commissioner districts did. O’Brien said the board had decided in a previous meeting to vote on the three possible numbers for commissioner districts, so there was no procedural conflict.

Members of the Racial Coalition for Justice, a group formed to represent county minorities during t he reapportionment process, recommended maps with 11 commissioner districts. Maps with 15 commissioner districts would dilute minority influence, according to Gail Harrison, who represented the group. Minorities would have significant representation in four districts on an 11-commissioner board, but only in three districts out of a 15-commissioner board, Harrison said.

The reapportionment board will meet again Friday, 1:30 p.m., at the county’s Fillmore Street Complex. The board will consider some revised versions of previously presented maps and could hold a final vote