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McLean County 5-District Plan Gets Early Nod With GOP Defector

Josh Barnett
Jeff Smudde
/
WGLT
Republican McLean County Board member Josh Barnett said Thursday he supports keeping the board's 10-district format.

After weeks of hearings, McLean County Board members have taken their first vote toward establishing new county board districts.

The board’s Rules Subcommittee voted 5-2 Thursday to cut the number of districts in half, from 10 to 5.

Board member Catherine Metsker said each board member should be able to represent rural and urban residents.

“I don’t have a great understanding of the details of the urban districts and if my district was larger, I would be required to support both of those,” said Metsker, pointing to a recent zoning issue in which every rural representative voted against an issue that won the support of most board members from Bloomington-Normal.

“That would tell me that those individuals do not really understand what our rural citizens want,” she said.

Committee member George Wendt proposed the switch to five districts. Committee chair Jim Soeldner and members Chuck Erickson and Randall Martin also voted yes.

Supporters of the five-district plan say it gives the public a chance to elect a larger percentage of the board.

But Republican Josh Barnett voted to keep the current 10-district format, saying it has served the county well for decades.

“Changing to five districts with four members per district is a radical change. It’s not a small change. It is a big change,” Barnett said. “I have yet to hear any kind of detailed examples why what we have here does not work.”

Barnett added there is “zero guarantee” that a five-district format would enable the County Board to maintain the same rural-urban split.

“It is completely possible that if we move to five districts and a vast majority, 18, 19, 20 members of the county board could be from Bloomington-Normal and leave the rural districts with absolute zero representation,” he said.

Laurie Wollrab, the only Democrat on the Rules Committee, also voted against the five-district plan.

The McLean County Farm Bureau has expressed support for reducing the number of districts, arguing it would give farmers and rural residents a larger share of representation on the board.

The GOP would likely need unanimous support to push through the five-district plan.

The nine Democrats on the County Board signed a petition to call for a special meeting on Tuesday to vote on a plan to keep the current 10-district format in place.

Democrats had generally supported a plan to move to 20 single-member districts — a plan board member Elizabeth Johnston proposed, but they dropped the effort after McLean County Assistant State’s Attorney Christopher Spanos said during a public hearing Monday the county would need to get voter approval through a referendum to switch to that format.

Democrats support having more districts, claiming smaller districts would give voters better representation.

If the county deadlocks on a plan and is unable to get a new board map approved, the county would convene a commission that would include the county clerk, state’s attorney, someone from the Illinois Attorney General’s office and representatives from the Republican and Democratic parties.

The County Board’s Executive Committee also is expected to take up the redistricting issue on Monday.

The committee has scheduled public hearings on May 18 and May 25 to discuss map proposals.

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