County to hold hearing on redistricting

By Bill Felber

Riley County commissioners gave themselves two options for redistricting their own districts Monday, both ending two long-standing traditions. Both of the proposed redistricting plans abandon the concept of contiguity, and both include rural areas in the previously all-city third commission district.

Commissioners informally agreed to schedule a public hearing some time in early September prior to formal selection of one of the plans. Whichever plan is accepted would define the county districts effective with the 2012 election.

That decision could be of immediate interest to two of the commissioners, since the seats of incumbents Al Johnson and Karen McCulloh will both be on the 2012 ballot. As it happens, theirs are the two most-affected districts in either plan.

Both options essentially balance the size of the districts. Option 1 creates a gap of 135 persons between the largest and smallest district, while the gap in Option 2 is 153 persons. Both options relocate Precinct 4-2 from commissioner Dave Lewis’ district to McCulloh’s, and seven precincts or townships from Johnson’s district to McCulloh’s.

In the second option, which commissioners appeared to be leaning toward Monday, the seven precincts or townships moved from Johnson’s district to McCulloh’s are Wards 4-6, 4-7, 11-1, 11-3, Manhattan 1, Manhattan 3 and Wildcat. The resulting map turns precincts 4-4 and 4-5, essentially the Warner Park area, into a second commission district “island” surrounded by other districts. Commissioners sort of apologized for the non-contiguous nature of the district, but said in their judgment that was made necessary by the population numbers and the county’s odd shape.

There appeared to be a clear consensus that the previously all-city third district should include some rural area; the proposed revisions are likely to move Wildcat, Manhattan 1 and Manhattan 3 townships from John’s district to McCulloh’s. McCulloh reiterated Monday her previously stated belief that it is “important” for all commissioners to have a mix of urban and rural interests.

The changes are made necessary by the fact that the commission districts had grown out of balance since the 2000 census. Based on the 2010 federal census numbers, McCulloh’s third district now has only 19,829 constituents, while Johnson’s second district has 27,074 and Lewis’ district has 23,208. If commissioners adopt the option they seemed to favor Monday, McCulloh’s third district would have 23,637 constituents, Johnson’s district would have 23,786 and Lewis’ would have 23,688.

Compensation study

Also Monday, commissioners approved a contract with McGrath Consulting of Chicago to do a compensation study for members of the county health department. That agency has previously been operated jointly by the city and county, but the county is taking over management.

Commissioners said the compensation study was needed for several reasons. They noted that none has been done for the department, and that there are several occupations – notably nurse – for which no county parallel exists. They also noted that the department has operated on a shorter work week than other county offices. The contract fee is $8,431.

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