Heather Nellis/Recorder staff Montgomery County Charter Commission member Orrie Eihacker, standing at center, addressed the Board of Supervisors Tuesday about the proposed legislative district boundaries.
Heather Nellis/Recorder staff From left to right, Palatine Supervisor Brian Sweet, Amsterdam 3rd Ward Supervisor Ronald J. Barone Sr. and Amsterdam town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza are pictured during Tuesday's meeting of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors.
By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
FONDA -- The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday tabled a resolution that would have established nine legislative district boundaries for the new legislature set to start in 2014.
Discussion instead favored the idea of a Committee of the Whole meeting with all 15 supervisors to finish the map.
First, supervisors defended a host of revisions proposed by the Board of Elections, and insisted gerrymandering was not at play in the recommendation to shift boundaries on the original map drawn and endorsed by the county Charter Commission.
Those changes would move nearly 1,900 residents; of that number, 1,492 would come from Amsterdam.
The election board was directed in December to review the commission's map to ensure it wouldn't create voting districts for an absurdly small amount of people. At that time, Republican election Commissioner Terrance Smith told the board the commission's map stood to create an election district in Fort Plain for five people.
Smith said the recommendations he crafted with Deputy Democratic Commissioner Caroline Swartz are mostly tied to money-saving measures in downsizing the number of election districts.
County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Bethany Schumann-McGhee called foul because the election board's proposal would move the residences of 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 Republican primary, like the commission's map would, should they both choose to seek election to the new legislature this fall.
McGhee was one of several people to speak in Tuesday's public hearing and the meeting's public comment about the districts.
"Whether this was an intentional act or a coincidental occurrence after a good-faith attempt to correct a perceived problem, the Board of Supervisors should endeavor to show the residents of this county that its actions are non-political," she said. "This process should not appear to be politically motivated, and if politics are indeed not the motivating factor, the decision to respect the work of the non-partisan commission should be an easy one."
Barone quickly defended himself after McGhee's address.
"I never asked anyone to alter the maps," Barone said. "The lies and innuendoes are getting ridiculous."
Charter Commission member Orrie Eihacker also addressed the board, and urged the supervisors to think about "the appearance of impartiality."
"We worked hard to earn the public's trust," she said.
County Republican Committee Chairman Joseph Emanuele III addressed the board and said Barone and Greco were "unfairly put into certain circles ... I know they didn't have any personal input into the allegations."
St. Johnsville Supervisor Dominick Stagliano, a Democrat, said he didn't think there was anything "sinister" about the election board's recommendation, rather it was a difference in motive, "and I don't mean that in a negative way."
"We were talking about five people [in Fort Plain], and I think -- I hope -- [the election board] went beyond that trying to take all the [voting] districts and compress them more. It was two different points of direction," Stagliano said.
Glen Supervisor Lawrence Coddington, who kick-started the initiative to change the county's form of government, said he was "absolutely and positively assured none of this was gerrymandering."
"The problem I have is perception," he said, noting he saw an acquaintance Tuesday who prompted him about the election board's recommended changes upon reading about them in the newspaper. "People are under the impression the [commission's] map put out there in the last election was 'the map.'"
"We all have to understand six of us are going to be out," Coddington said of the board, and the reduction of 15 supervisors to nine legislators under the impending changes. "We're worrying too much who can and who can't run in particular areas."
The board ultimately has the discretion to adopt any map that has majority support.
According to the national organization FairVote, an advocacy group that seeks reformation of the nation's elections and related procedures, gerrymandering is defined as "drawing a district with boundaries that favor one or more groups of voters and/or some candidates over others."
"Redistricting encourages manipulation of our elections by allowing incumbent politicians to help partisan allies, hurt political enemies and choose their voters before the voters choose them," its website reads. "The current process is used as a means to further political goals by drawing boundaries to protect incumbents and reduce competition, rather than to ensure equal voting power and fair representation."