Reapportionment Committee rules out four and five district maps

Beth Welbers
Geneseo Republic
Henry County communities

The Henry County Reapportionment Committee met July 1 for further discussion on the possible redrawing of County Board District maps.  

The Committee is comprised of four voting members. These are County Board Chairman Kippy Breeden (R-Geneseo), Vice-Chairman Shawn Kendall (R-Galva), and County Board members Marshall Jones (R-Kewanee) and Jan May (D-Kewanee). Ms. Breeden is Chair of the Reapportionment committee. 

Other members/advisors to the committee are Republican Central Committee Chairwoman Jan Weber, Democratic Central Committee designee Joanne Hillman, 2011 Reapportionment Chairman Jon Zahm, State’s Attorney Cathy Runty, County Clerk/Recorder Barb Link, and County Administrator Erin Knackstedt, who is the committee’s Recording Secretary. 

Considerable discussion was given to the four proposed maps that were circulated among the committee.  

Board member Bill Preston (R-Geneseo) argued against the existing two district map, claiming it was “gerrymandered”, and made it impossible to elect a Democrat.  He advocated for the three district map, and would like to see the Board Chairman elected at large, if permitted by statute. This marked a change in his 2011 position when he served on the committee and was part of a 3-2 majority to recommend the two district map currently in place. 

Jan Weber stated that larger counties elect their Chair at-large, and Henry County, by size, probably does not qualify.  The measure would have to be a referendum that would need to be on the ballot as well. Weber agreed to review the statutes regarding at-large County Board Chairman, and report back on those.

JoAnn Hillman felt that the current two district map tended to favor the larger communities, Geneseo in District 1 and Kewanee and Galva in District 2.  There is not enough representation of the Democrat party or smaller communities with this system. 

Shawn Kendall argued that any way the map is divided, it could be construed as gerrymandered.  The population base is fair and the majority party is effective at electing members.  Other county boards work just as well with fewer members, although 20 members allow for more representation. He said he likes the current two district map. 

"Someone's going to feel slighted," Kathy Nelson (R-Geneseo) observed. "Outside of the Geneseo or Kewanee people, they should just step up and run for the Board, if they don't feel represented. "  Nelson prefers a 15 member board from three districts. 

Jan May said that with a 3 district map 15 members would be best, but likes 20 members.

Marshall Jones said he would like to see a reduction in Board members to 15 under a three district map, or 16 with two districts. 

Jon Zahm, along with then County Board Chairman Tim Wells, authored the original two district map ten years ago. Zahm said that map is the “complete opposite of a gerrymandered map.” He stated it is “fair, easy to understand, keeps communities of interest together as best as possible, and spreads out the population so that no one area gets too much of a concentration of power.” Zahm supported a 12 member board, but would back a reduction to 16 as a compromise. 

Natalie Collins (R-Kewanee) felt that an 18 member board was optimal, and 15 members was too big of a reduction.

Jim Thompson (R-Colona) said he supported the current map, as it “has worked very well and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” He also indicated support for keeping the board size at 20 for the same reason. 

Bill Preston likes the status quo, feeling that to reduce it further would short communities on representation. 

Kippy Breeden indicated that the next meeting would take place once the Census numbers were available, and the committee would look at the two and three district map options.