May 21, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

County asks to hear from public on 3 proposed charter changes

8 min read
Lane County's Judy Williams and Jenna Cusimano presented three recommended revisions from the Charter Review Committee Tuesday. County commissioners approved public hearings for all three, which will likely be held in June.

With a little nudge from the League of Women Voters, Lane County commissioners voted Tuesday to conduct a public hearing on whether the county charter should be changed to include the independent redistricting committee. During public comment May 7:

Terry Parker: My name is Terry Parker. I’m the president of the League of Women Voters of Lane County.

[00:00:19] The League of Women Voters, if you don’t know, is a nonpartisan political organization promoting informed and active participation in government. We do not support or oppose any political party or candidate, but we do take strong stances on policy issues relating to voting rights, civil rights, and other social policy, after doing extended review and study, using a consensus-building process.

[00:00:43] I’m here today to speak for the League, and also have the past president, Charlcie Kaylor, in the audience, and request that you honor the hard work of your Charter Review Committee and support recommendations for establishing an independent review committee for redistricting within the Lane Charter.

[00:01:01] The League has a long collective memory. Diving into our archives, I found this in a 2011 position paper on local redistricting: ‘The method should advance the purposes of a representative democracy by allowing citizens meaningful choices and by holding the government accountable to the people. The plan should adhere to all legal requirements and promote competitiveness and partisan fairness. The plan should be developed independently.’

[00:01:31] We’ve made our position known many times, and you have our written statement, so I won’t belabor the point. We look forward to seeing you and hearing more discussion this afternoon.

[00:01:42] John Q: During the afternoon session:

[00:01:46] Laurie Trieger (Lane County commissioner): It’s great to have turnout and so much engagement… I did want to just thank not only folks for coming today, but all the engagement on the issue around charter review. It is the community’s document because it is the sort of constitution of how we run our county government. And so it’s really important and really good to see so much engagement from the community and interest in the item…

[00:02:06] At the table from staff with us is Jenna Cusimano, our economic development management analyst.

[00:02:12] John Q: Explaining that voters must approve any changes to the county charter:

[00:02:17] Jenna Cusimano (Lane County): For changes to the charter, Board of Commissioners approve putting the measure on the ballot, and the measure ultimately goes to the voters for approval. So any changes to the charter ultimately need to be approved by voters.

[00:02:29] John Q: She shared a recap of the process followed by the Charter Review Committee to recommend three changes to the county charter.

[00:02:37] Jenna Cusimano (Lane County): From December 2022 through October of 2023, (a seven-member Charter Review Committee) panel met bimonthly, engaged staff, and conducted public outreach during that time. Last fall, the Charter Review Committee presented its final report and recommendations to the board. We subsequently held a work session with the board Nov. 8, 2023, to further discuss those recommendations. And then today we’ll be discussing the three sections that the committee had recommended for revision.

[00:03:09] John Q: With a timeline that would put those changes on the ballot in November:

[00:03:15] Judy Williams (Lane County, chief of staff): I’m going to talk through what are the next steps just so that everyone is clear on if we are moving forward, what do some of those next steps contain? The questions are really: Do you want to have a public hearing for all charter review recommendations moving forward before you decide anything?

[00:03:32] If you were to move forward with a public hearing, there are some dates that are really on track to get you to a potential November 2024 election. So we could have a public hearing, for instance, on June 11, June 25, about that timeframe.

[00:03:48] Then you would consider it again, if you were moving forward, it would be a separate Board order that we could do at the same day of the public hearing and moving it forward with a Board order to really refer those to the ballot; a separate board order, if there was interest to do a voters pamphlet; and deciding who would be working on the pamphlets and identifying those members.

[00:04:14] And then ballot titles are due to elections Aug. 16, voter pamphlets deadline Aug. 27, and then our final measure filing form is due Sept. 5. So these are the dates that we’re tracking if the board has direction to move forward. And I’ll turn it back over to Jenna to walk through the recommendations.

[00:04:37] Jenna Cusimano (Lane County): In 2021, an independent redistricting committee was adopted by ordinance and established in Lane Code. The independent redistricting committee is tasked with recommending two to four maps for the Board to select from, and the charter states the Board of Commissioners shall not less than every 10 years initiate review of the population densities of each district and boundaries when necessary.

[00:05:02] This allows for the possibility of multiple redistricting efforts; so, it’s that language around it, ‘not less than every 10 years,’ is where some of the ambiguity came in.

[00:05:12] So some of the discussion that the Charter Review Committee had was the merits of where the independent redistricting committee should be housed, whether it be within the charter versus Lane Code, and the associated pros and cons to each.

[00:05:26] So where should the authority and responsibility for redistricting reside?

[00:05:32] David Loveall (Lane County commissioner): There’s some language in the proposal that I think would be good for a public discussion. I’m personally not comfortable with it, and I think the public should probably weigh in on this.

[00:05:44] And I think the second part of the layered question was the redistricting process… The way that was redistricting was handled last time, the most deviant population variance was from North Eugene at 5.5% and South was at plus 2% and the other three districts were at a negative percentile.

[00:06:04] So is there going to be a requirement for future boards every 10 years to redraw maps? Or is it going to be contingent on a certain variation of population that would require it? So, whereas some years, it may not require it.

[00:06:19] Judy Williams (Lane County, chief of staff): My recollection is that there is not a requirement to make that determination. It has been something that the committees themselves have decided. It’s been a 1%, deviation that the committee has agreed upon using and so that has been the practice the last two redistricting sessions to come up with that 1% agreement as a committee.

[00:06:43] The way that I understand that the recommendation is written is that it would be coming to the Board for review to determine if a modification is necessary. Two redistricting efforts ago, there was certainly that option of make no changes at all—here’s the current process and map moving forward. You don’t have to make changes based on the population.

[00:07:07] David Loveall (Lane County commissioner): I’m wondering too if part of that process going forward, would that be part of a public input process? The public would say, ‘Hey, I think we should relook at this.’ And then the Board of County Commissioners would then have some, at least, input on what to make that decision on. I’m hearing and just, you know, around the circle here, of side-talking, and so I’m kind of putting that into a question.

[00:07:31] Heather Buch (Lane County commissioner): I’d really like a public hearing to flesh those out to because there’s nuances within this one that I think we have to talk about.

[00:07:41] Pat Farr (Lane County commissioner): I’d like to point out—and as Commissioner Buch said, there are nuances that need to be worked through—the motion is generally to move forward with the next step so we can get on the November ballot. But I think the language that has been proposed by the Charter Review Committee kind of covers your concern. It just states, ‘initiate a review to determine if a modification is necessary.’ And there may not be a modification necessary. So I think, go ahead with the motion.

[00:08:09] David Loveall (Lane County commissioner): Chair, I’d like to move to approve taking the next steps toward revising section 10.3.D and 10.3.E redistricting process and establish the independent redistricting committee in the charter as recommended by charter review, and let me add to that, with a discussion of nuances through public hearing. (I’ll second.)

[00:08:29] Laurie Trieger (Lane County commissioner): All those in favor signify with an aye. (Aye.) Motion carries 5-0. Thank you.

[00:08:36] John Q: The Charter Review Committee also recommended two other changes.

[00:08:41] Jenna Cusimano (Lane County): A recommendation to revise the titles and descriptions of commissioner districts… and then last, but not least, the Charter Review Committee recommended some revisions to the Charter Review Committee. The current language allows for only one year for the committee to provide their recommended changes. It really takes a lot of time to familiarize yourself with the (charter) document and get an understanding of how it functions within the county and where it might be appropriate to make changes. So a year really flies by, I would say…

[00:09:12] A one-year limit on the work of the committee reduced opportunities to engage with the public and seek input. It was something that they were very interested from the outset, really engaging with the public, having a lot of community feedback. And while there were two different survey iterations, the ability to really build in that opportunity for feedback and engagement and having in-person meetings and that sort of dialogue, it wasn’t really feasible with the timeline that they were working in…

[00:09:37] And so the recommended revision was to allow for that full two years to make that report.

[00:09:42] John Q: All three changes recommended by the Charter Review Committee will now get a public hearing. During the morning session, the League of Women Voters had one further comment.

[00:09:54] Terry Parker: I do want to extend our appreciation for two standout Lane County employees that have provided, on separate occasions, presentations at our League Speaker Series.

[00:10:05] County Clerk Dena Dawson, while relatively new in her position here, is so well-grounded and dedicated to the work of reliable and secure elections. She’s our people. She’s given us insights into what has to happen behind the scenes to do that important work.

[00:10:23] And when the harassment incident occurred through the mailing of a questionable substance, we, and I assume you, were horrified. My first off-the-cuff reaction was, ‘We should send them flowers or donuts or something.’ And then I thought better of that, meaning sending anything might not be a good response at that time.

[00:10:41] The League has reached out to offer what support we can do to let the Elections Office know how valuable and how much we appreciate their good work in upholding our democracy.

[00:10:53] Another standout last year, when asked to support the removal of the jail levy, we did a bit of research, and I had this eye-opening conversation with your jail administrator, Capt. (Clint) Riley, in jail services. He and the sheriff talked to us recently. The thing that struck me most was Captain Riley’s personal story of coming to the understanding that everyone has their own story and for the people he sees, it is often rooted in early trauma. You could see the understanding in his eyes. You know—you know him.

[00:11:27] I just want to acknowledge that you have rock stars on your team.

[00:11:31] John Q: Terry Parker highlights two of the rock stars serving the public in Lane County. And commissioners ask for public hearings on three proposed changes to the county charter, which is the equivalent of a county constitution. Those public hearings will likely be held in June. To learn more, see the Charter Review Committee website.

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