The Dane County Board is taking steps to ensure its redistricting process is nonpartisan once census data is collected in the spring of 2021, and the board is seeking public opinion about its size.
Currently, the Dane County Board of Supervisors has 37 districts each based on the number of residents. Each supervisor represents approximately 14,500 residents.
While the number of supervisors may seem large, county board members representing the Waunakee area say because work is done by committee, decisions are made efficiently, and the board’s size does not seem unwieldy.
Dave Ripp, who represents Springfield, Vienna, a portion of Westport and Dane, said his concern with the redistricting is that rural areas continue to be represented.
“I’m hoping we keep the same number of districts. The larger you make a district, the less chance we have for rural representation,” Ripp said.
Currently, Waunakee and a portion of Westport are within the same district represented by Supervisor Tim Kiefer. Ripp said Waunakee, with its approximately 14,000 residents, could possibly become a district on its own. Or new lines drawn could cut the village in half and have it combined with another municipality, Ripp said.
His hope is that the survey will show a desire to keep the number of districts at 37, Ripp said.
Both Ripp and Supervisor Kiefer support the redistricting process the board has designed, with a nonpartisan redistricting commission appointed by the county-board chair and county clerk.
Currently, applicants are being sought to serve on the commission, and they must meet a number of criteria. They cannot be a member of the county board, a county employee or a contract consultant. Lobbyists and those who have held a position with a political party or partisan organization within a year prior to the appointment will also not be considered for an appointment.
Overall, those appointed are required to be impartial, not participating in political party activity or in Wisconsin’s 2011 redistricting process.
“It’s a good thing this time,” Ripp said. “It’s not being done by the county board. It keeps the politics out of it.”
Kiefer said he is proud of the process that was planned for two years ago.
“Instead of the county board drawing one map and trying to draw one side or protecting certain people, instead it’s turned over to a non-partisan commission,” Kiefer said.
Kiefer said many are asking for the same non-partisan redistricting process at the state level.
“We’re not just talking the talk; we’re walking the walk,” Kiefer said about the county’s redistricting process.
Kiefer said he hopes people respond to the survey about the county board’s size.
“I’m going to listen to what people say and try to do my best and follow the guidance we’re getting from the community,” he said, noting that when he has gone door to door to campaign, people have not expressed opinion about the board’s size.
Kiefer said now is the time for people to speak up, while the process is underway.
“The last thing I want to happen is after the decision is made with board, people say their opinion was not heard,” Kiefer added.
He noted that with fewer districts, the population of each will grow.
“If the board were to shrink, that means the district gets bigger,” Kiefer said, adding, for instance, Waunakee could be merged with another municipality such as DeForest. In that case, county supervisors could represent a municipality they don’t live in.
“I personally like the fact that I live in Waunakee and I represent Waunakee,” Kiefer said. “People have to decide if that’s a value and if it’s important to them.”
Both Kiefer and Ripp say that with county supervisors working in committee and much of the decision process done in that format, the large board works well. Controversial decisions, such as the jail renovation, are made by the entire board.
Ripp currently chairs the park commission and is on public works, CDBG, UW Extension, Lakes and Watershed and sustainability committees.
Kiefer serves on the zoning committee.
“The county board does pretty well,” Kiefer said. “It’s not a dysfunctional organization.”
Kiefer added that he does have frustrations at times, but said, “that’s the way democracy works.”
Anyone wishing to take the survey and weigh in on the board’s size can send an email to County_Board_Recipients@countyofdane.com
A Polco survey is also available at https://polco.us/n/res/vote/dane-county-wi/public-survey-on-dane-county.
Those interested in serving on the redistricting committee can complete an application at https://www.danecountyplanning.com/Projects/Redistricting. Applications are due by July 31.