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Champaign County Executive Vetoes Democrats’ County Board District Map

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County seal, mounted on the wall in the Brookens Center's Shields-Carter Meeting Room, where Champaign County Board holds meetings.

2nd UPDATE: May 21 2021 5:45 p.m. – Champaign County Executive Darlene Kloeppel has vetoed a new district map that the county board approved Thursday night, and is asking the county board to reconsider the question at its June 24 meeting.

In her veto message released Friday, Kloeppel said Democrats had not taken the time to consider testimony from a public hearing held earlier in the meeting. At the hearing, the Champaign County Farm Bureau and a group of past Farm Bureau presidents argued that the Democrats’ map would hurt county board representation of rural areas. Kloeppel also says population variances between districts in the Democrats’ proposal run the risk of a legal challenge to the map, once Census figures are released.

“I view a veto of a County Board decision as a last resort to unsuccessful compromise,” Kloeppel wrote in her veto message, “and am optimistic that given the inclination, board members can work through some of their differences with further negotiation prior to voting on this ordinance, which will have an
impact on county elections for the coming 10 years.”  – Jim Meadows

UPDATE May 21 2021 12:25 a.m.: The Champaign County Board voted 14 to 7 along party lines Thursday night to approve a new county board district map to be used for the next decade.. Democrats ignored proposed maps recommended by County Executive Darlene Kloeppel, a Democrat herself. Instead, they pushed through their own map.

Democrats say their map helps Champaign County’s growing minority population by creating two county board districts where minorities will make up the majority of voters. But Republicans say the map dilutes the voting power of rural residents, by placing as much rural land as possible into a single district. 

Republicans also contend the Democrats’ new county board districts have too much variance in their populations. They say that will lead to legal challenges, once long-delayed U.S. Census figures come in. — Jim Meadows 

Original story

URBANA – Disagreement over new district boundaries for the Champaign County Board is falling along party lines. Redistricting proposals will be the topic of a public hearing and a vote at the upcoming county board meeting, set for Thursday, May 20 at 6:30 PM at Champaign County’s Brookens Administrative Center and via Zoom.

The Champaign County Board’s 22 members are elected from eleven districts. Each district has two seats on the county board.

12 proposed district maps have been presented to the county board. Nine were created by County Executive Darlene Kloeppel and a 13-member advisory committee. Three others were submitted by Champaign County Democrats. Kloeppel is recommending three of the maps her team created, as the best choices to set the county board’s district boundaries for the next decade.

Meanwhile, county board Democrats are expected to support one of their three maps, known as the Equity Map. County Board Vice-Chair Steve Summers of Urbana says one of that proposal’s strengths is that it has not one, but two districts where people of color would be in the majority.

“I do think that we have underrepresentation of minority groups in Champaign County,” said Summers, “so I think this would be a step in the right direction.”

But GOP caucus leader Jim Goss of Mahomet says the Equity Map is an attempt by Democrats to create an additional safe seat for themselves, so they can control the county budget. Instead of including four primarily rural districts where Republicans would be expected to dominate, the Equity Map has only three.

“What they’re trying to do is expand their majority,” said Goss. “And once they get one more county board seat, then they can basically spend the money however they want to spend it. Right now, they still need Republican support to change budgets, and they don’t have that.”

Goss says the stakes are higher for the rural areas of Champaign County that are dominated by Republicans. He says county government plays a larger role in providing services to unincorporated and small town areas.

“In the rural areas, they depend on the sheriff for their police protection,” said Goss. “They depend on the county for highways. There’s so much more that the rural folks, that’s their government.”

In addition, Goss accuses the Democrats’ Equity Map of lacking balance in its district populations. District population sizes are supposed to be roughly equal, and the variance between populations on the Democrats’ map approaches the limits of legal guidelines. Goss predicts that once numbers come in from the delayed 2020 census, the Democrats’ map will be subject to legal challenges.

But Summers says his side did the best they could with the available data.

“If the census data, when it finally does come in, shows irregularities, then we’ll go through that process,” said Summers. “But we’re following. I think as a party, the guidelines that we’ve been told to use in terms of not waiting for the census data.”

With state deadlines for preparing the maps not budging, despite the census delay, the map proposals have been drawn up using survey data, such as the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. These are less accurate than a new census would be. But Kloeppel says the Champaign County Board has to adhere to state deadlines for selecting a new district map. Otherwise, the county executive says state law dictates the job will be handed over to a five-member commission, made up a Democrat and Republican from the county, the county clerk and state’s attorney, and a member from the Illinois attorney general’s office.

“If I hadn’t submitted a map by the middle of May, I would have lost my ability to have influence over the choices,” said Kloeppel. “If the county board doesn’t make its decision by the first of July, it loses its ability. And then if the five-person commission doesn’t make a decision, it loses its ability and we will elect people on an at-large basis for the next year.”

Goss says Champaign County Board Republicans support the three maps proposed by Executive Kloeppel, especially the map known as Plan One. This map is based on the county’s current district map that the county board approved in 2011, but adjusted to 2021 population estimates, and anticipated growth in southwest Champaign.

Follow Jim on Twitter @WILLJimMeadows 

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Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows has been covering local news for WILL Radio since 2000, with occasional periods as local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered and a stint hosting WILL's old Focus talk show. He was previously a reporter at public radio station WCBU in Peoria.

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