Gov. Rick Snyder has reportedly signed a controversial bill that could overturn a map drawn by an Oakland County committee charged with redrawing districts after the 2010 Census.
Quoted in the Detroit Free Press, Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said the governor signed the bill because it "brings greater transparency to the process" by ensuring that only elected officials participate in redrawing boundaries after the dececennial census.
The new law puts the board of commissioners in charge of drawing new districts in counties with a population more than 1 million and an optional unified form of government with an elected county executive. Wayne County also meets the population threshold, but has a charter form of government, so Oakland is the only county affected by the new law.
With 25 commissioners, Oakland is also the only county affected by a new rule that limits the number of county commissioners to 21 in counties that have more than 50,000 residents.
State Rep. Vicki Barnett (D-37th District) that she believes HB 5187 likely violated the state constitution, and county Democratic party chair Frank Houston told the Detroit Free Press today that a legal challenge to the new law is "imminent."
Monday, the Royal Oak City Commission “Letting elected officials choose their voters… that could very well negatively impact Royal Oak and other communities throughout the county," Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said.
Democrats in the Legislature and on the Oakland County board voiced strong objections to the new law, calling it a partisan power grab. Seven of 10 Democratic commissioners walked out of a county board meeting last Thursday, after a resolution opposing the bill failed, The Detroit News reported.
Legal challenge to new map
The redistricting map was drawn by a bipartisan committee that includes county Republican and Democratic party chairs, the county clerk/register of deeds, county prosecutor and county treasurer.
While the committee has a Democratic majority, the Board of Commissioners has a Republican majority.
County Commissioner David Potts (R-Birmingham), Troy Mayor Janice Daniels and Southfield resident Mary Kathryn Decuir have filed a lawsuit that claims the map was gerrymandered to give Democrats a partisan advantage. According to The Detroit News, "the petition claims the map creates 'numerous non-compact districts' and 'unnecessarily divides communities of interest in the Pontiac and Southfield areas.'"
Two weeks before state Rep. Bradford Jacobsen (R-Oxford) introduced HB 5187, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the original map. Barnett said Dec. 9 that the timing makes the new law unconstitutional, because the legislature cannot pass a bill that reverses a legal court decision. The new law 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.
Barnett also believes the law qualifies as "local and special" under the state constitution, and such laws require a two-thirds majority vote, as well as an affirmative vote of the citizens in the affected jurisdiction. She said the law qualifies because it only affects Oakland County and will require the county to change its charter to reflect the smaller number of commissioners.
Republicans apparently plan to continue their fight in court. Potts told Bloomfield Township officials at a recent meeting that his group intends to file an appeal of the map with the Michigan Supreme Court, .
County Executive L. Brooks Patterson told the Detroit Free Press that he supports the new law, because of the estimated $250,000 in savings and greater efficiency with fewer county commissioners. He also argued that Democrats have made similar political moves at the state level on behalf of the city of Detroit and said Democrats should "get over it."