SARANAC LAKE - Several members of the committee that put together Franklin County's redistricting plan for the coming decade presented their plan for reapportionment on Thursday.
Franklin County Legislator Marc “Tim” Lashomb, R-Malone, tells a crowd gathered for Thursday’s county budget hearing what the county is facing in terms of state mandates, as Harrietstown town Councilman Ron Keogh, left, and Deputy Supervisor Barry DeFuria listen.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
The only change in the plan over the current districts is moving a slice of Malone from David "Billy" Jone's district into Marc "Tim" Lashomb's. There weren't many changes in population over the last decade, and that small move gives the county a 9.1 percent deviation from the average population.
"That seemed to make a lot of sense," said county Attorney Jonathan Miller, who headed up the redistricting committee. "It's essentially Mr. Lashomb's neighbors."
Dan Jenkins, an area resident who was one of several people to successfully sue the county over its last redistricting plan a decade ago, congratulated the committee for its work. He suggested that in the future, the committee make redistricting maps more widely available to the press and public.
"We're visual animals," Jenkins said.
He also suggested that the county doesn't necessarily have to follow census numbers, saying the final standard by state law is whether the voters are evenly distributed. He asked questions about the Akwasasne Mohawk reservation, which is in the town of Bombay, and legislators said that's all murky water.
"I've been working on it for 30 (years) and I still don't know," said Legislator Guy "Tim" Smith, the Democratic member of the Board of Legislators who was appointed to the committee.
Enterprise Managing Editor Peter Crowley suggested that a 9.1 percent deviation is good, but it could be better. He also argued that legislative district 3 is not very contiguous, stretching in an L-shape from Bangor to Brighton.
Board of supervisors?
Crowley also suggested that a board of supervisors, with the head of each of the county's 19 towns serving as the municipality's representative with the county, might give each town better representation.
"It's more in tune with the one person, one vote principal," Crowley said.
Jenkins noted that there are techniques like mulitmember districts and weighted districts that could also be used to give more equal representation.
Jenkins also suggested that the next redistricting plan be put on a ballot so voters can choose, although its too late this time around.
"That turns the process of democracy back to the electorate," Jenkins said. "Other counties do it as a matter of course."
Harrietstown town Councilman Ron Keogh asked if the door is closed on switching the county to a board of supervisors format.
Miller said the board of legislators format was put into place after a court order 40 years ago, but he said if there's political will to change it during the next redistricting effort in a decade, "I don't know that it's not possible."
"I don't think we have to wait 10 years to do that, if that's what we want to do," Keogh said.
Press-Republican reporter Denise Raymo asked the committee why it had no public meetings and why its work was never discussed in open sessions of the county Board of Legislators.
"There was no chance for anybody to come and comment on it," Raymo said.
"It hasn't been a secret," said county Democratic party head Kathy Fleury.
She and Miller argued that the hearing was the forum for public comments, but Raymo said the plan is set. Several of the people who commented during the hearing said it was too late for one change or another.
Committee members disagreed.
"We can make changes all day long," Miller said.
Raymo argued that no one had a chance to present any other options or look at any other plans.
Legislator Tim Burpoe, D-Saranac Lake, said he did suggest that the committee look at possibly adding another legislator to the south end of the county, noting that the five towns in the south end contribute about 62 percent of the county's property taxes. But his suggestion was not heeded.
"I guess the numbers can't support that," Burpoe said.
"It's very complicated math to go through to try to get seven districts a tight as they are here," Miller said.
Jenkins, who requested to be appointed to the redistricting committee but was denied, agreed with Raymo.
"I think you could just be a little bit more open in the process," Jenkins said.