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Meeker County sets districts for next election
April 23, 2012

Plan puts commissioners Benoit and Kutzke in same district

By Kristen Miller
News Editor

MEEKER COUNTY, MN – Voters in Meeker County will see a new set of districts come November as the board of commissioners adopted its redistricting plan Tuesday, passing by only one vote.

Prior to the vote, a public hearing took place in which Meeker County Auditor Barb Loch explained the key elements of the process and the requirements of county redistricting. Redistricting occurs every 10 years following the census.

Such requirements include:

• Each county should be divided into as many districts as there are current commissioners.

• Districts are bound by town, municipal, wards, or precinct lines.

• Each district will be composed of contiguous territory, as regular and compact in form as practicable.

• Each district should be as nearly equal in population as possible and not vary in population more than 10 percent from the average for all districts in the county.

By law, the county’s redistricting plan needs to be set by May 1.

Three residents voiced their concerns regarding the 16 proposed redistricting plans submitted to the board for review that were said to meet the guidelines above.

Dassel Township resident Ford Peterson read a letter voicing his concerns for plans that failed to group commissioners Dave Gabrielson (Litchfield Township) and Jim Swenson (Ward 4) into the same district, claiming this would be considered gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is defined as dividing election districts so as to give one political party an advantage over the other.

He also said that any of the plans that do not separate them appear to “fail the compactness test and the communities of interest test,” or what were “fundamental redistricting principals.”

Kingston Township resident Mike Housman also addressed the board, explaining he had seven plans, but only five of them were included in the packet. He commented that there had been some clerical issues and some of the plans may have been duplicates of others submitted. Housman suggested, however, the two plans that were left out were among the best and seemed to balance the populations out quite well.

Richard Pennertz of Litchfield also voiced concerns regarding the wards in Litchfield being too spread apart.

Commissioner Wally Strand recommended a plan that he said was the most equal as far as distribution of population.

It was also noted during the meeting that plans could be interchanged and amended.

This plan passed 3-2 – commissioners Dave Gabrielson, Roney Kutzke, and Strand voting for it; and commissioners Tim Benoit and Swenson voting against it. Swenson noted prior that his concern was with future growth not being taken into account, particularly in the lakes areas of Collinwood and Minnebelle.

The plan is separated into five districts, resulting in one new district and two current commissioners living in one – Benoit and Kutzke. This plan also requires that all commissioner seats to be up for election in November.

District 1 includes the city of Darwin, Darwin Township, and Litchfield city wards one, four, and five, with a total population of 5,096.

District 2 includes Forest City Township, Harvey Township, Litchfield Township, Litchfield city ward two and three, with a total population of 4,520.

District 3 includes Acton Township, Cedar Mills, Cedar Mills Township, Collinwood Township, Cosmos, Cosmos Township, Danielson Township, Ellsworth Township, and Greenleaf Township with a total population of 4,513.

District 4 includes the city of Dassel, Dassel Township, Kingston, and Kingston Township, with a total population of 4, 412.

District 5 consists of Grove City, Eden Valley, Forest Prairie Township, Manannah Township, Swede Grove Township, Union Grove Township, and Watkins, with a total population of 4,759.

The terms of each district were determined as well, with Districts 1 and 3 for a two-year term, and Districts 2, 4, and 5 for four-year terms.

Rural Dassel residents express concern over dog kennel operation

On the agenda for board approval was a recommendation by the county’s planning and zoning commission to approve a conditional use permit for Josh Jennings on 190th Street, Dassel.

The conditional use permit would allow Mark Staloch of Eau Claire, WI to operate a dog kennel up to 20 dogs, as well as dog-training program.

During the public comment portion, neighbor Neil Heglund expressed concerns regarding this operation, concerns he said he shared with other neighbors adjacent to the property.

His concerns included noise created by dogs barking and guns used during training. Another concern was the proximity to a conservation area and how the dogs may affect the wildlife habitat.

Kristin Cote, planning and zoning director, explained that conditions were set by the commission including time frames of when the use of ammunition for training could be done. It was also noted that the kennel would be 495 feet from the closest dwelling.

As the commissioner of that district, Benoit said that he is familiar with the property and that he didn’t feel comfortable “sentencing the neighbors to a 20-dog kennel.” He was also concerned with the sanctity of the wildlife in the area.

“I have a hard time following the recommendation of the planning office,” he said.

Commissioner Swenson said that it is the property owner’s agricultural land, and “It’s hard for me to say ‘no.’”

After a failed motion to prepare findings to deny the permit, a motion passed that would extend the 60-day rule and table it until the Tuesday, May 15 meeting.

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