Herald JournalHerald Journal, Dec. 27, 2004

'Hutch vs. rest of county:' redistricting lawsuit gets underway

By Rich Glennie
McLeod County Chronicle

The opening court appearance for the redistricting lawsuit filed against McLeod County and the city of Hutchinson by Doug Krueger was over within 15 minutes Thursday morning, but the differences of opinions was clear.

Krueger of rural Glencoe filed the lawsuit earlier this year, asking the district court to require the county to redistrict its five commissioner districts.

Krueger’s lawsuit alleges the county board, in conjunction with the Hutchinson City Council, redistricted in 1992 and again in 2002 in such a way as to ensure the city of Hutchinson has a majority of the votes on the county board.

The suit stated that discriminates against the majority of McLeod County residents.

Judge Thomas Murphy presided over the initial hearing. McLeod County Attorney Mike Junge represented the county as well as County Auditor Cindy Schultz, also named in the lawsuit. Kevin Ross was the attorney for Hutchinson and its city administrator, Gary Plotz.

Representing Krueger was Alan Weinblatt, who said the suit was filed on the basis that the county board intentionally fashioned the commissioner districts to favor Hutchinson’s representation on the board.

The lawsuit requests the court require the defendants to draw up new precinct boundaries in Hutchinson and new county commissioner districts.

Judge Murphy asked that even if the redistricting decisions were arbitrary, “does the intent make any difference as a legal matter?”

Weinblatt said it does. He said the burden is on the plaintiff (Krueger) to show the intent by showing discrimination, not on the basis of population, but on the association of rural vs. urban representation.

But Junge was quick to reply that this was not a rural vs. urban issue. It is more Hutchinson vs. the rest of the county. He pointed out that about 10,000 of the county’s population of 34,890 residents live in the townships.

Junge also noted that four of the five county commissioners also live in townships. “This is not urban vs. rural.”

Ross said the city of Hutchinson agrees. He said the motives of individuals on the county board and city council are irrelevant in this case. He said the decisions on redistricting were made by entire city councils and county boards.

Ross said the court should decide if there is a factual basis for the lawsuit and not allow it to drag through expensive depositions that simply add to the cost of the case. “Resolve it as a matter of law,” Ross added.

Junge said the county had no objection to the proposed schedule, which included a Jan. 31 deadline to file depositive motions. Weinblatt agreed.

As to a March 10 hearing date, all agreed. Ross, however, felt there was no need for a trial in this case.

But Weinblatt said he would like to proceed with the discovery phase until the March 10 hearing.

Ross, however, said allowing the plaintiff to continue to get depositions from elected officials and administrators “to get at what they were thinking” will only add to the legal costs and “will create satellite issues.”

“Whatever happens in Hutchinson dictates the position of the county,” Junge added. He agreed the issue should be decided on legal argument.

Junge also said there is no rush to resolve this, because the next election is still two years away.

Weinblatt said he has begun the discovery phase of his case. He said if the court decides on a summary judgment, “then I have to have evidence to resist the summary judgment.”

Junge also noted that the former city attorney for Hutchinson was Barry Anderson, currently sitting on the Minnesota Supreme Court. “You should be aware that could raise ancillary issues.”

Ross said Anderson was the city attorney during the first census, in the 1990s. “We think there are no issues from the 1990s. It’s a moot point.” He said the plaintiff’s case is built on issues from over a decade ago.

He stressed that the decisions made in 1992 and 2002 were done by the full councils and full boards and not by individuals.

But Weinblatt said Justice Anderson has publicly stated the motive of the Hutchinson City Council was for Hutchinson to dominate the county board. “It was publicly stated. It’s in the record.”

Judge Murphy said if he grants the discovery continuation, that will push back the hearing date. He said he would take Weinblatt’s request to continue discovery under advisement.

Krueger filed the lawsuit in July, and said his main aim is fairness.

Krueger said the redistricting in 1992, and again in 2002, gave the Hutchinson area an unfair advantage with control of three commissioner seats on the five-member county board.

That created an inequity since Hutchinson makes up about one-third of the county population, yet has three-fifths of the county commissioner seats.

He claims the inequity began in 1992 when the city of Hutchinson trimmed its five precincts to three, with one county commissioner district aligned with each Hutchinson precinct.

With the urban residents outnumbering the rural residents in each of those Hutchinson districts, Krueger suit claims the situation perpetuates the problem.

He said the only way to get it changed would be through district court action.

On the other hand, the county and city of Hutchinson claim both followed the state statutes, and that Krueger’s lawsuit is in error in characterizing residents living outside of the county’s seven cities as being “rural.”

The county also claimed in 2002 that it came close to the ideal commissioner district population with its redistricting plan.

The city of Hutchinson denied Hutchinson or any group controls or represents more than one commissioner district. It also noted that citizens vote for their commissioners, not the city of Hutchinson.

The county also noted that not all votes on the county board are 3-2 votes, rather most are 5-0 or 4-1 votes.

The county also denied that the county board favors the Hutchinson area projects over those elsewhere in the county, as alleged in the lawsuit.

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