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Proposed district changes spark controversy

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - Updated: 5:48 PM


Recorder News Staff

Montgomery County election officials' proposed revisions of the Charter Commission's legislative district map have sparked allegations of gerrymandering.

The Board of Supervisors is set to adopt a map of its discretion tonight at its monthly meeting, where Republican election Commissioner Terrance Smith is expected to explain changes he recommended with Deputy Democratic Commissioner Caroline Swartz.

A public hearing on the proposed local law is scheduled before the meeting at 6:45 p.m. It will take place in the supervisors chambers at 64 Broadway, Fonda.

The election board's recommended changes would primarily shift district boundaries in the city that were initially outlined by the county Charter Commission. Of the 1,842 residents that would be moved under the election board proposal, 1,492 are city residents.

It would move the residences Amsterdam Republican Committee Chairman and 1st Ward Supervisor Vito "Butch" Greco and 3rd Ward Supervisor Ronald J. Barone Sr. into separate districts. That would prevent them from having to run against each other in a primary, like the commission's map would, if they both choose to seek election to the new legislature this fall.

Democratic Committee Chairwoman Bethany Schumann-McGhee said she thinks the changes are politically motivated.

"There's no justification for the changes other than protecting Republican incumbents. I think the non-partisan commission's lines are much more fair."

The map drawn and endorsed by the county Charter Commission would require all but one incumbent -- Conservative Amsterdam 5th Ward Supervisor Michael Chiara -- to pit against one another in elections this year if they chose to run for the legislature. Eleven of the 15 sitting supervisors are Republicans.

But Republicans say the changes are tied to money saving measures in ensuring the county won't need voting districts for an absurdly small number of people. For example, at a special board meeting in December, Smith said the commission's map stands to create an election district in Fort Plain for three people.

In a memo written by county Senior Planner Doug Greene to the Board of Supervisors, Greene said Smith proposed the changes, and included before and after maps.

Smith said that was "misinformation," because he worked on the changes with Swartz. He said he wasn't sure why Democratic Commissioner Jamie Duchessi didn't work on the review.

Smith said he didn't write the aforementioned memo with Greene, and said he didn't have written reference materials to detail the justification for each proposed change, though he said it likely would have been appropriate.

When asked to justify the changes, Smith only pointed to one that would prevent a 38-person election district on Amsterdam's South Side.

"If the numbers are that small, it doesn't make sense economically," Smith said Friday. "We're required to have four inspectors man a table in each election district."

When asked to comment on the allegations he crafted the boundaries to favor Republicans, Smith said, "That's interesting, because I'm hearing it's impacted Republican incumbents worse."

Smith said he didn't work with supervisors on his revisions, and wasn't aware of their addresses.

Greco defended the voting district argument, but said he won't support the revisions when the Board of Supervisors votes to adopt a map tonight. He echoed other supervisors' support of the commission-endorsed map, as it was posted at polling sites and accompanied voter education materials on the charter.

"The changes are not for the Republican party. But as far as Vito 'Butch' Greco is concerned, I'm against it. The charter commission came up with a map, and I want it to stay the way it was. I will not support any major revisions to the original maps."

Greco said he's unsure if he will be able attend tonight's meeting, but his absence would mark a "no" vote, anyway.

Greco said he agreed with Amsterdam Democratic Committee Chairman and 2nd Ward Supervisor Jeff Stark, who issued a pair of analyses on the changes.

Stark deemed them "unnecessary."

His first memo looked at the impact of the changes in terms of the number of residents shifted from one district to another. Stark ultimately agreed some minor changes are necessary, and those changes will result in moving 116 residents county-wide.

But of moving nearly 1,500 residents in the city, Stark deemed that "needless."

Stark's other memo considers the financial impact that Smith referenced. Moving the aforementioned 116 residents would allow for the elimination of 11 election districts, and Stark estimates that would save $5,500.

But of the changes that move an additional 1,842 residents, Stark says it won't eliminate any more election districts, so it won't save any additional money. He said it would save the same amount whether the people are moved or not.

"Therefore, again, I view the additional proposed changes as unnecessary."

Whether the maps are altered is of the discretion of the board.

"The supervisors will make the final choice where the boundaries go," Smith said. "They asked for my recommendation, and if they don't agree with it, they don't have to vote that way."


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