The Rock County Board could vote Thursday night to finalize new boundaries for the board’s 29 supervisory districts. The new voting maps will affect how voting works for county residents over the next decade.
It appears the board is headed toward maps that would help current board members keep their seats.
The board voted Sept. 23 to say the maps should include a goal of keeping incumbents alone in each district.
That is not in the plan that was submitted to the board. An ad hoc redistricting committee's framework didn't consider where incumbents live, leaving seven districts without incumbents living in them. Five other districts contained either two or three incumbents.
Neil Deupree of Janesville, a former board member who served on the ad hoc committee, said favoring incumbents looks bad.
“Change is always uncomfortable, and whatever the board decides would be OK, but it would certainly look better if the incumbents weren’t appearing to protect each other,” Deupree said.
Board member Russ Podzilni, who was in charge of redistricting in 2010, said the board's desire to put an incumbent in each new district is designed to retain members who know how the board works, the issues and their constituents.
The issue will come to a head Thursday night when the board might vote on some map alternatives that were laid out in a memo prepared for Thursday's meeting.
Board Chairman Rich Bostwick, who also served on the ad hoc committee, said incumbent addresses should have been considered in the map-drawing, but it shouldn't have been as high a priority as the board voted for Sept. 23.
“There are (board members) who put a high value on experience and relationships that have been built over many years with constituents,” Bostwick said. “People have said, especially now that we’re in the most challenging time of our lives … that we don’t have time to feel our way along with a learning curve.”
Board member Bill Himmel of Milton said Wednesday he prefers the original map.
“Frankly, it’s the whole issue of whether people choose their representatives or representatives choose their voters,” Himmel said.
Himmel noted the county board is nonpartisan, so no one could call the maps gerrymandering--drawn to favor one political party--but he believes certain factors, such as compactness of districts, are more important than protecting incumbents.
Compactness means districts are not stretched into odd shapes but rather kept as close as possible to easy-to-understand geometric shapes.
But the board demoted compactness in favor of incumbency. The vote Sept. 23 was 17-6 to do that. Those voting against were Stephanie Aegerter, Pam Bostwick, Wes Davis, Alan Sweeney, Shirley Williams and William Wilson. Six board members were absent.
Bostwick said the board could postpone a decision Thursday and continue its discussion to its Oct. 14 meeting, but the county is required to get the new maps to municipal officials by Oct. 15.