Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Nov. 19, 2001

All Wright Co. commissioners may have to face re-election

By John Holler

On Election Day Nov. 6, the Wright County Board found itself in session with no commissioners up for reelection. What a difference a year might make.

At this same time next year, all five commissioners could be up for election, as redistricting required by the 2000 census could result in enough changes to force Commissioners Ken Jude and Jack Russek, who won elections in 2000, to run again.

"The laws state that if your district changes by more than 5 percent of the average of all districts in the county, you'll have to run for election," Jude said. "While we're still waiting for the numbers, it looks like it will come down to the City of Buffalo to determine who will have to run for election next year."

The formula is complicated and has resulted in contentious arguments in the past. In 1992, Buffalo was split into two commissioner districts, with one precinct being shipped out to another commissioner district. In 2002, it might be more pronounced.

The problem is simple. Once the state has finished carving up congressional and legislative districts, it become the county's turn.

To use round figures, if the county has 100,000 residents, each commissioner district must be within 10 percent of the average - meaning a district could be anywhere in size between 18,000 and 22,000. However, it gets a little dicier, especially in Wright County's circumstance.

"A commissioner district must be a contiguous area, which means you can't have a city or township as an island that doesn't touch the rest of that commissioner's district," County Coordinator Dick Norman said.

"That is where redisricting comes in. With population changes, you have to find a way to even out the size in population of the districts and that is what we'll face next year."

The changes will likely be substantial. Almost 70 percent of the land area of Wright County is covered by Jude and Commissioner Dick Mattson, because the growth of the county has been centered in the eastern part of the county.

As the population grows in those areas, something has to give, which means Commissioners Pat Sawatzke, Elmer Eichelberg or Jack Russek will have to give up area and voters, and Jude and Mattson will likely have to take on additional voter districts.

"It gets a little complicated, because you never know how the pie is going to get cut up," Jude said. "Hopefully, it can come down to a simple moving of a township here or there, but, with the big population growth in the other districts, to make the numbers work, it could easily involve the City of Buffalo and dividing off a precinct to another commissioner and possibly having three commissioners representing part of Buffalo."

Complicated? It gets worse. For example, the City of Monticello could not be separated off to a commissioner who doesn't represent Monticello Township, because the township completely surrounds the city, making both an all-or-nothing districting proposition. Added to that, is the inexperience of the auditor's office to handle the redistricting question.

"Ordinarily, redistricting would have fallen to me," County Elections Officer Gloria Gooler said. "But in the past (former Auditor/Treasurer) Darla Groshens handled all of that directly with the commissioners. I've never done it before, and neither has (current Auditor/Treasurer) Doug Gruber."

Will the redistricting get ugly? Perhaps. But the bigger question is whether all five commissioners will potentially have their jobs at state the first Tuesday of November in 2002?

"Right now, I would say all five of us will be up for election," Sawatzke said. "It's tough to say having not seen the final numbers on the sizes of the districts. Maybe (Russek) can avoid it, but, with the population changes, it seems almost inevitable that four or five of us will all face elections next year."

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