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Oakland County Redistricting Overhaul Heads to Michigan Senate

The bill would reduce the number of Oakland County commissioners and change how districts are drawn.

A bill that would change how Oakland County residents are represented in Pontiac passed through the State House Thursday.

Introduced on Nov. 29 by State Rep. Brad Jacobsen (R-46th District), a former Oakland County commissioner, HB 5187 moved out of the House Government Operations committee on Dec. 7, then passed through the House on Dec. 8, on a 58-50 vote. It would cut the number of commissioners in Oakland County from 25 to no more than 21, and put the Oakland County board in charge of drawing new districts based on the 2010 U.S. Census. 

Only Oakland County is affected, because the bill targets counties with a population over 1 million and an optional unified form of government with an elected county executive. Wayne County meets the population threshold, but has a charter form of government. 

During an interview Thursday on WDET-FM's Craig Fahle show, Jacobsen said the bill is aimed at reducing the size of government. He projected savings from reducing the number of commissioners would be more than $2.5 million over the next 10 years.

Denying political motivation, Jacobsen told Fahle the bill's purpose is also to ensure voters select all the representatives on the reapportionment commission. Two of Oakland County's apportionment commission members are Republican and Democratic party chairs; the county clerk/register of deeds, county prosecutor and county treasurer, who are elected, also serve. 

However, Democrats, who now have a majority on the county apportionment commission, argue the bill is all about politics. 

County Commissioner Jim Nash, a Democrat who represents Farmington Hills, called the proposal "unbelievable ... I guess they feel if you're not running the game, you change the rules." He said the system of drawing lines has remained the same in Oakland County for more than 50 years.

The current system wasn't challenged 10 years ago, when Republicans were in charge, said county commissioner Marcia Gershenson, who represents Beverly Hills, Franklin, Bingham Farms and sections of West Bloomfield, Bloomfield and Southfield Township. 

"We lived with it," she said. 

Oakland County commissioner Bill Dwyer, a Republican elected in 2010 to represent Farmington and a portion of Farmington Hills, said the bill "speaks for itself. I think it's positive in the respect that it saves money by reducing costs." 

Constitutional questions

State Rep. Vicki Barnett (D-District 37), a Farmington Hills resident, questions the timing of the bill, which was filed two weeks after the state court of appeals upheld the existing map. The Detroit News reported Thursday an appeal will be filed with the Michigan Supreme Court. 

Barnett said she believes the bill violates Michigan's state constitution because the legislature cannot pass a bill that reverses a legal court decision. HB 5187 would require Oakland County to go back and redraw its map with a smaller number of districts, effectively overturning the appeals court ruling, she said. 

"If he (Jacobsen) put in the bill for the 2020 census, that's a proper bill," she said. "I don't necessarily support it, I think we need to get less political, instead of having commissioners redistrict themselves, but it would certainly be a constitutional discussion."

The state constitution also requires any bill that is local and special to pass with a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate, and an affirmative vote of the citizens in the affected jurisdiction, Barnett said. She believes HB 5187 qualifies, because it only affects Oakland County and requires the county to change its charter to reflect the change in state law. 

Barnett said the bill was passed out of the House in short order so it would get to the Senate in time for consideration before the winter break. The Senate's last day in session is Dec. 15. 

"It's moving very quickly," she said. 

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