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Douglas County Commission approves slightly modified 5-district map; no special election to fill new seats

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Douglas County commissioners on Wednesday approved a map dividing the county into five districts, and they will recommend to the governor that the two new commissioners be elected during the 2024 general election.

The other option would have been to hold a special election. In that case, chairs of political parties would have needed to call conventions and choose candidates for the two newly formed districts; then voters in the new districts would vote in a special election. The entire process would’ve needed to happen within 90 days.

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County voters in the Nov. 8 election — by a margin of roughly 61% to 39% — called for an expansion to five county commission districts from the current three.

Ten people who spoke during public comment Wednesday shared mixed feelings about the proposed map, but most spoke in favor of holding a special election. Some suggested a “moratorium” on important decisions that will affect rural residents until the two new commissioners can be sworn in, which will be in January 2025.

“I am so furious that you would deliberately thwart the will of the people of this county who voted by a huge majority to go to five commissioners,” Steve Crane, of Clinton Township, told commissioners. “And now you want to preserve your little fiefdoms and your power for an extra two years and not (hold a) vote on this till ’24, which means we don’t have any new commissioners until January of 2025. I am disgusted.”

The current three commissioners voiced concerns about the special election process — and ultimately voted to recommend that the election wait until the November 2024 general.

“I just think that there’s a lot of democratic value to people choosing to run, being able to throw their name in the hat and give electors choices rather than parties making choices on behalf of the electorate,” Commission Chair Shannon Reid said Wednesday.

Commissioner Patrick Kelly said he appreciated those who shared their thoughts.

“We hear a lot people representing their ideas as being the entire county’s ideas, and I don’t agree with that all the time,” he said. “And in this case, I still — all the points that I made last week are still in place for me when it comes to special election versus general election.”

Some of the concerns he voiced included the difficulty for candidates to run their campaigns on such a quick timeline, and making adjustments to the county budget for next year, which has already been decided. Although he said he thought two years seemed like a long time, there are a lot of pressing issues, and in the grand scheme of things, he was leaning toward waiting.

Gov. Laura Kelly has five business days after receiving the commissioners’ recommendation to make the final call, Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said Wednesday.

The map

Reid had concerns that the proposed map only left a few precincts that she currently represents in the 2nd District. She said she hoped to “spread out the change a little bit” to other districts. She asked to make some tweaks to the map that was in the agenda packet, and the commission took a recess to allow county GIS staff to work on it.

For comparison, here’s the map that was proposed in the agenda packet, followed by the modified one the commissioners approved Wednesday:

Following public input, Douglas County proposed this map for the five county commission districts. (County map / LT image)
Douglas County commissioners on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022 approved this map of five county commission districts. (County map / LT image)

Commissioner Karen Willey said she liked that the proposed map had “natural dividing lines,” such as Massachusetts, Iowa and 23rd streets, and kept some neighborhoods together when possible.

The commission unanimously approved both the map and the recommendation to hold off on electing the two new commissioners until November 2024. Reid and Willey’s districts — 2 and 3, respectively — will also be on that ballot. Kelly was elected to a second four-year term in November.

Here’s a PDF, which includes a closer look at the districts and the specific precincts they include:

20221221-Adopted5CommissionDistrictMaps

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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