2001-05-26 Lakeshore Press County Commison will shrink

County commission will shrink
Lakeshore Press

The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners will shrink by two seats by next year. In a split vote, members of a reapportionment committee decided Friday to reduce the number of commission seats from 13 to 11. Two of five members wanted to increase the seats to 15.

County Democratic Party Chairman John O’Brien of Hudsonville wielded the decisive vote in a process required by law after each 10-year census. “The Democratic Party is known for wanting big government,” he said. “But I think smaller is better. Yes, our population has grown, but you don’t see us adding townships because of it.”

O’Brien said a key factor behind his vote was that the redrafted map for the 11-seat board had more districts with significant minority populations than the 15-seat map. “It’s my party’s job to care about those who don’t have a voice in county government or who don’t know how to have a voice,” he said.

O’Brien said he voted for fewer seats even though an expanded board likely would give a Democrat a better chance of winning a seat on the all-GOP board. As drawn-area commission members, Joe Haveman of Holland and Ed Berghorst of Zeeland Township in the same district. Two Jenison-area commission members, Cornelius VanderKam and Dale Mohr, also would end up in the same district.

The solution could set up races among those members when the new districts take effect in August 2002. Berghorst, who joined several other members in the audience at Friday’s committee meeting, said he preferred expanding the board. His district covers Zeeland, Zeeland Township and parts of Holland and Blendon Townships. But the newer, larger district in his area would cover almost all of Jamestown Township and distance him form some constituents.

“There’s no compatibility with the people I will have to deal with,” he said. Ottawa County had 11 commissioners form 1970 through 1990, and then it jumped to 13. Gail Harrison, executive director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, tracked the reapportionment committee’s work and supported the 11-district map.

She favored the plan because it will yield minority populations of about 25 percent in districts that cover Holland and Holland Township an about 10 percent in districts that cover Park and Olive townships. The 15-member map would have only two districts with significant minority populations.

O’Brien, County Clerk Dan Krueger, Prosecutor Ron Frantz, Treasurer Mary Richardson and Ottawa County Republican Chari jack Holmes made up the reapportionment committee. Among the criteria for redrawing districts are to keep them as square as possible and contiguous.

While Ottawa County has three districts north of the Grand River, it will only have two next year. The Holland area still will have three districts and Jenison two districts. Each of the 11 districts contains about 21,500 citizens.

Frantz and Holmes said they preferred more districts rather than fewer because of Ottawa County’s surging population. “That provides an opportunity for a commissioner to know the district well,” Frantz said