Prenzler’s Plan To Shrink Madison County Board Criticized By Both GOP And Democrats
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
A redistricting map proposed by Madison County Chairman Kurt Prenzler was heavily criticized by county board members Tuesday night, who signaled they weren’t likely to approve the plan that would shrink the board’s size.
Democrat and Republic board members joined together to critique the proposed redistricting map that would reduce Madison County’s districts from 29 to 25 through a map presented to the board by Prenzler.
Every 10 years the county board votes on adjusting district lines to reflect population changes based on the newest census data. Prenzler said the new map has been delayed, however, due to the timing of the release of the 2020 Census results.
All board members’ terms will expire next year meaning an entirely new board will be elected in the newly-drawn district lines if and when a new map is approved by the county board.
Republican board member Heather Mueller Jones said Prenzler’s proposed map would make county districts too large and will make running for office difficult for people who don’t have financial backing.
“While I am in favor of reducing the size of government, it has to be done responsibly and allow everyone who wants to be a part of the government to do that,” she said. “It’s going to make it where only people who have a lot of money or backing from particular people or a party can run and that’s not fair.”
Democrat Doc Holliday, who represents the Alton area, said if the number of board members is reduced the people of the county will have less representation, a statement other members of the board echoed.
Mick Madison, another Republican board member, said Prenzler’s map would “turn the districts on their heads” and said there was “no way” the map would be approved by the county board.
Republican Mike Walters, who represents a portion of Godfrey, called the map “gerrymandered” and said it does the citizens of Godfrey a disservice by eliminating one of its two representatives on the county board.
In April, the county under Prenzler’s order entered into a $4,500 contract with the University of Illinois Geographic Information Systems Lab at Springfield to draw the new redistricting map. Prenzler said the agreement was aimed at ensuring the map is done fairly and without bias.
“I promised when I ran (for office) a fair map and, in my mind, the method to get to a fair map is to let it be drawn by an independent,” he said of the contract last week. “My instructions were to draw the map without bias.”
Both Walters and Mueller Jones agreed that if Prenzler’s proposed map were to pass, the same amount of work and committee meetings would fall on to the remaining 25 members of the board.
“I don’t think this is the best map for the people and there will be a lot more work to be done by county board members if we do go down to 25,” Walters said. “This map to me, in my area, does not do a great job of representing Godfrey. I cannot support a map that takes away a representative from Godfrey.”
The Madison County Board has the maximum number of board members allowed by law who represent roughly 263,000 people.
Prenzler’s proposed map is based on the assumption that the county will shrink in population. The estimated population in 2019 was nearly 263,000, down from about 269,000 in 2010.
An alternate map was presented Monday by Republican board member Chris Guy of Maryville, who chairs the Government Relations Committee.
At Tuesday night’s hearing, Guy said Prenzler’s proposed map was a good start to the “needed” conversation on reducing the number of districts in the county but said he wants the public more heavily involved in the process.
“We’re not going to ram this through, we’ll have more hearings on the mapping process,” Guy said. “I want to hear from the public on this.”
The county board is scheduled to vote on Prenzler’s proposed map Wednesday at the 5 p.m. monthly county board meeting.
Kavahn Mansouri is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.