Panel considers reducing number of Kalamazoo County commission seats

Kalamazoo County

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Some Kalamazoo County citizens may be seeing a change in who represents them on county commission.

Soon, they might have two less chairs in the administration building after a recent motion made by the county’s Apportionment Commission.

The Apportionment Commission only meets every 10 years to discuss the number of districts and their exact boundaries. The panel includes the county treasurer, county clerk, prosecuting attorney and the chairs of both major political parties.

Minutes of a recent meeting released by the Kalamazoo County government vaguely state discussion ensued and “a majority of Commissioners individually said 9 seats would be a reasonable number of seats on the Board which would be consistent with other counties across the state.” Currently, there are 11 seats.

The minutes do not say what exactly was discussed and who exactly supports or opposes the proposal.

The meeting was publicly accessible live through Zoom. While a recording was not available when this report originally aired, it was later posted online.

“Local government is truly for the people…” Kalamazoo County Commission Chair Tracy Hall said. “All over the United States, people feel like their voice isn’t valued or heard. What I’m afraid of (is) if we move away from the people because our districts get too large, we’re going to have that same concern here.”

Michigan state law regarding county commission districts and guidelines for apportionment says that “no township or part thereof shall be combined with any city or part thereof for a single district, unless such combination is needed to meet the population standard.”

While the areas in question have yet to be confirmed, U.S. Census Bureau data shows Kalamazoo County’s overall population rose by more than 11,000 over the last decade. Hall believes less representation despite more constituents is troubling.

“Each district is not a one-size-fits-all. We have to make sure that we’re paying attention to communities of interest, not just our urban core or our rural areas or our townships,” Hall said. “Each one has its own opportunities and challenges. What we might need in district 2 may not be the same in district 9, or district 11.”

The apportionment committee has until Oct. 11 to decide on the final number of commissioner seats and any drawings of the district lines. Two more public meetings are scheduled for Sept. 8 and Sept. 22.

County Treasurer Thomas Whitener, who serves as chair of the Apportionment Commission, released a statement Wednesday about the issue.

Whitener said the Apportionment Commission welcomes the public comment they have received. He noted that Kalamazoo County voters “have overwhelmingly said” they want districts drawn by independent bodies.

“With that knowledge in mind, it seems to me to be highly inappropriate for sitting commissioners to attempt to steer the public narrative and place pressure on the members of this commission,” Whitener said in the statement. “That being said, the Commission recognizes that our job is to draw fair, legal maps that conform to the guidelines written in state law, without regard to the seats of sitting commissioners or partisan concerns.”

He said the Apportionment Commission will draw the districts “in an independent and thoughtful way.”

Whitener did not directly comment on or provide an explanation for the possible reduction in county commissioner seats. 

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