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McLean County Hears Several Ideas To Reshape Board Districts

McLean County Government Center
WGLT file photo
The McLean County Board's Executive Committee plans to hold two more redistricting meetings in April and May.

A McLean County Board committee heard several recommendations Tuesday to reshape the county’s top governing body, while a member of the committee argued the county redistricting process lacks fair representation.The board's Executive Committee held the first of three public hearings on the county’s once-every-decade process to draw its county board district maps following the latest U.S. Census.

McLean County committee meeting virtual
Credit Eric Stock
Members of the McLean County Board Executive Committee met in-person on Tuesday for the first of three public hearings on redistricting.

The meetings are the first the county is holding in-person since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Currently, the county board has 20 members: two from each of 10 districts.

County board member Elizabeth Johnston, a Democrat who is not a member of the Executive Committee, proposed the county double the number of districts from 10 to 20 and give each district one representative.

Johnston noted McLean County has the most land mass of any county in Illinois, adding that reducing the size of each district would give the public a stronger connection with their county board member.

“In Chenoa, their closest board member is 30 miles away. That’s almost the distance from my house to Morton,” said Johnston. “We are a big county and I would like to see us make sure that we have representation for each community in our county.”

But a member of the public, Jacqueline Beyer, called for the county to trim the number of districts from 10 to five.

Beyer said voters should elect a greater percentage of board members representing them, not fewer. She said rural McLean County needs more representation because it relies more on county services, especially police protection and road maintenance.

“The residents of the cities outside of Bloomington and Normal should have a proper and strong voice in county funding because of the greater proportion of services they receive compared to the city of Bloomington and Normal,” Beyer said.

Anna Ziegler, the assistant manager of the McLean County Farm Bureau, asked the committee to consider reducing the number of districts to between four and seven.

“We believe that reducing the number of districts will empower every voter, both urban and rural, to vote for a larger percentage of the board,” Zeigler told the committee. “Instead of voting for just two County Board members, every (voter) would have the opportunity to elect three, four or five, depending on the number of districts.”

Ziegler also stressed the need for more rural representation, noting the county’s land use rules apply only to unincorporated areas of the county and a large chunk of that is farmland.

She said fewer districts also would give each district more input in the county’s oversight committees, noting each committee has seven members.

Three of the county board’s 10 districts cover much of rural McLean County, while the remaining seven include parts of Bloomington-Normal.

'Lacks representation'

Executive Committee member Laurie Wollrab, the only Democrat on the nine-member panel, slammed the county’s redistricting process, saying the county hasn’t established clear criteria.

“We have not discussed our goals, what tools we will use to achieve our goals, or how we will measure any end products against our set goals and how we will meet the requirements of state and federal law,” Wollrab said.

She claimed the Executive Committee lacks the diverse representation needed to fairly oversee the map-making process. She noted the committee has eight Republicans and one Democrat, while the county board is more evenly split (11-9). She added the committee has six men and three women, compared to an even split on the full county board.

“The committee lacks any representation of people of color,” Wollrab added. “Furthermore, the Executive Committee is extremely unrepresentative of the county board and the county residents in respect to the age of its members. The committee’s average age is far in excess of either.”

The Executive Committee is made up of chairs of the county board’s oversight committees. County board chair John McIntyre has said he hands out committee leadership assignments based on experience.

Wollrab is the only Democrat on board who has served at least one full term.

McIntyre has said the county is still waiting on complete census data. County board vice chair Jim Soeldner said he learned during a recent meeting of the Illinois Association of County Board Members that some counties plan to use 2019 census data to guide their redistricting.

The Executive Committee plans to hold two additional hearings -- at 4:30 p.m. April 26, and 7 p.m. May 3.

The committee is expected to present final redistricting plans for the full county board on May 13.

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