The Vernon County Board of Supervisors voted to adopt a tentative redistricting plan that reduces the number of districts and supervisors from 29 to 19 at its meeting Oct. 6.
Prior to the vote and lengthy discussion by the County Board, Eric Evenstad, chairman of the Vernon County Local Redistricting Commission, thanked commission members Roger Call and Kay Stanek and citizen members Randy Skinner and Brian Rude for all of their work so far. He also thanked County Clerk Jodie Audetat and Doug Avoles and Taylor Voegeli of the Vernon County Land Information Office for their work and the municipal clerks for their feedback.
Evenstad presented a timeline of the redistricting process. He said census data from the Census Bureau was made available to the county Aug. 23, and the commission began meeting soon after (the process usually starts in April every 10 years). A public hearing was held Sept. 15.
Evenstad said the municipalities (cities, villages, towns) have until Oct. 29 to approve the district boundaries and create their related wards or make any suggested adjustments and the commission will meet Nov. 1 to review and approve a final plan for the County Board’s consideration. This map will be made available for review by the public as soon after the commission meets on Nov. 1 as possible. Another public hearing will be held before the County Board meeting at 9 a.m. on Nov. 3. The final proposed map will come before the County Board on Nov. 3 for approval. He said that by Nov. 17 the county-board approved final map would need to be submitted for publication to meet the deadline and allow for the map use in the upcoming election.
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Evenstad said that after the hearing on Sept. 15 and following commission meeting, he was made aware of several supervisors that planned to bring up a proposed amendment to reduce the number of supervisors of the County Board. There was an original suggestion of a reduction to 25 supervisors. After some consideration of previous discussions had in committee and on the board floor, Evenstad asked that the commission consider multiple numbers of proposed supervisor districts that would allow the Board to have logical options based on comparable counties and structure changes made by the County Board up to this point. The GIS department was able to create multiple versions of 19, 23, and 25 supervisor districts for the commission to put through the same evaluation process it had with the previous 29 supervisory district map. The versions presented immediately to the public by the commission were maps for both 19 and 23 districts. Proposed by David Eggen, an amendment to the original resolution came before the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 6 to reduce the number of supervisors from 29 to 19.
Supervisor Shawn Redington asked since the two new redistricting map options were presented after the Sept. 15 public hearing, were they allowed to be considered. Corporation counsel Nikki Swayne said a proposed plan may be amended after a public hearing due to the tight timeline.
Garrick Olerud said one of the reasons for the proposed reduction of supervisors from 29 to 19 was to increase competition at election time. He said when the last election was held, there was one seat in competition and the other seats were uncontested.
“We should have more competition,” Olerud said. “People want their vote to be heard more. Your one representative has a stronger voice.”
Olerud created a spreadsheet with 10 counties close to the size of Vernon County’s board of supervisors and the 10 biggest. “We have a really high number of supervisors,” he said. “Last year we hired an administrator to run the county and (we have) 29 supervisors; that’s a lot of voices. We would be creating competition and better supervisors. It’s best for residents.”
David Eggen, who represents District 10, said he questioned what happened to his district on the map showing 19 districts. “I’m against change; I hate change. Initially I was angry... We have exhausted the need for 29 supervisors. I’m in favor of 19 supervisors.”
Alycann Taylor said her constituents have the perception Viroqua’s voice will be limited and there will be less representation.
Board chair Justin Running said he understood that feeling of Taylor’s constituents. “One person represents more people but people would have one person to go to.”
Eggen said the county has experienced a sea change in the past year with virtual meetings and the hiring of a county administrator. “The next logical step would be to decrease the size of the board… There’s no lack of representation…”
Some County Board supervisors questioned if the plan to go from 29 to 19 supervisors could be voted on because it wasn’t on the agenda.
Corporation counsel Swayne said it was consistent with the law and consistent with what the supervisors can do as a county board. She said an amendment to the tentative plan may occur after the public hearing. “It’s necessary to be consistent with your duties. I believe you are compliant with public meeting laws with the agenda… you are compliant with open meetings.”
Evenstad said it’s important for the board to do the best it can for Vernon County.
“We did reduce the number of committees and hired an administrator,” he said. “We’re more policy driven now. It’s a natural evolution how we work as a county government. Nineteen supervisors fits in the middle – comparable to Trempealeau; we’d be 13th out of 21.”
Supervisor David Strudthoff said 23 districts didn’t make sense. “Nineteen looks more like what we have.”
Mary Bringe said she had a problem voting on reducing the number of supervisors. “Legally we can do it but I have a problem with people not knowing about this.”
Adrian Amelse asked if feedback from the public could be solicited.
“We’re under a ridiculously short timeline,” Running said. “We’re not trying to rush through this as a board. We’re forced to do this in a speedy manner. There will be another public hearing and after that the board will vote on the map.”
Darrel Clark said if the board drops in size, each supervisor represents more people. “We have a diverse pool. If we reduce to 19, we reduce the pool of talent on the board.”
Amelse said going from 29 supervisory districts to 19 simplifies things. “We have (census) blocks and voters will have one person to contact. It will put more responsibility on supervisors going from 29 to 19 districts.”
A redistricting information page can be found on the Vernon County website.
Angela Cina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.