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Dividing Lines

A couple weeks ago, we noted that Dennis Ward, the Democratic commissioner on the Erie County Board of Elections and a member of the Erie County Legislature’s Advisory Commission on Reapportionment, had roughed out a number of maps illustrating scenarios in which the legislature could be reduced from 15 seats to 11 and conform to the new Census numbers without dividing towns that are equal to or smaller than the most populous possible district. State law prohibits dividing towns that fit that description, although that mandate has frequently been ignored in past reapportionments.

Ward’s presentation of his maps caused a minor kerfuffle that blew up into exchange of heated emails last week. Ward wanted to display his maps at the commission’s public hearings. Republicans on the commission, as well as the commission’s chair, attorney Adam Perry of Hodgson Russ, feared the maps were misleading and would confuse the public. In an email to the commission, Perry said he might be willing to allow Ward to display one, but not all, of his maps, but that in any case he’d ask for a vote of the whole commission on the matter, and initiated an email straw poll of the commission’s members. (Open meeting law, anyone?) Ward responded with a long email tirade accusing his fellow commission members of hypocrisy:

I am particularly amused that a commission member would suggest that the displaying of such examples of how to draw the district lines without dividing towns would be “misleading”. How, pray tell, and who would be misled? And misled about what—that it isn’t possible to do?

Perry responded:

I will not respond to Mr. Ward’s defamatory, misleading, and self-serving diatribe. I encourage others not to respond. His statements are not worthy of a response and not worthy of an individual admitted to practice law where duties of candor and civility are the rule and not an option.

By Tuesday’s meeting of the commission, the acrimony has subsided—a little. The members settled on a timeline for the next few weeks, as proposed by Perry: By April 29, commission members must have submitted their proposeals for redistricting, and the commission will discuss those in a session on May 2. By May 6, members of the public must have submitted their proposals, and the committee will meet to discuss those on May 9. On May 11, there will be a public hearing on all the proposals at ECC’s downtown campus.

Ward’s maps and other commission materials can be viewed online here.

geoff kelly

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