GENEVA – Kane County’s town hall meetings on reapportionment has resulted in a mixed-bag of reactions – some critical, others lauding the effort.
The county has to redraw the boundaries for its 24 districts to include 15,000 additional residents, while keeping districts at an ideal population of 21,500. The county’s population is estimated at 532,000.
The county has hosted five town halls, the most recent Wednesday at the Hampshire Township office.
Normally, boundaries are redrawn every 10 years based on census data, but because the data was delayed this year, officials plan to use the rolling averages provided by the American Community Survey and then correct the maps once the data is released.
Legislators passed a law setting back the March primary next year to June 28 and giving counties until Dec. 31 to make their reapportionment instead of July 13.
However, Gov. JB Pritzker has not signed the bill yet, so Kane County still is on a track for reapportionment to be completed by July 13, Kane County Board Chairperson Corinne Pierog said.
“While we have input of our board members and community leaders, I feel it is important that we develop a provisional map – not a final map, but a provisional map – that will be agreed upon,” Pierog said.
Then once officials get the actual census data instead of the rolling average results of the American Community Survey, Pierog said then officials can review it, and “make sure it is exactly as we hope it would be with appropriate data.”
Once the census data is added, officials would bring it out again for public comment, Pierog said.
‘Waste of time’
At the June 2 town hall, held at the Kane County Government Center in Geneva, Batavia Township resident Ellen Nottke criticized the town halls as “a waste of time, talent and money.”
“The county has now held several public hearings on an inanimate object. Asking us to comment on the color for the walls in this room would be more productive. At least we could see it and form a valid opinion. Asking us to form an opinion or suggest changes on an invisible map is a different story,” Nottke said.
“I believe that these forums have been a waste of time, talent and taxpayer money,” Nottke said. “We should be focusing on getting the maps drawn so that the public can then comment and have a rational input in the process. It makes no sense to put the cart before the horse.”
But John Kohlstrand, a Democratic committeeman in Geneva Precinct 11, countered that he appreciated the town hall meetings.
“It’s quite a few hearings, but democracy takes work sometimes,” Kohlstrand said. “I also appreciate the attention with which the board here is giving to voting rights representation issues.”
The town hall scheduled for Hampshire is an effort to ensure that those residents don’t have to travel an hour one way to participate, Pierog said.
“We bring government to you,” Pierog said.
Relevance of 2011 map
At the May 26 town hall meeting in Elburn, vice chairman of the board, Kenneth Shepro, R-Wayne, questioned why the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund map of 2011 was being presented.
“I’ve tried to figure out – what is the relevance of the 2011 MALDEF map?” Shepro said. “In any case, whatever it says or whatever the data is, it’s 10 years out of date. … I understand that the growth of the Hispanic population in the county has been significant each year, so that the farther back you go, it seems to me, the less accurate the averages seem to be.”
Pierog said the map was commissioned by a past county board member and serves as a baseline for how the districts could be drawn.
“We had to start with some sense of purity that was an agreed-upon number. And now looking at ACS data – which may or may not be as accurate as the 2020 census data – we least we have a comparison of a starting place,” Pierog said.
Town hall facilitators
The county hired Zach Koutsky of Berteau Consulting LLC to facilitate the town hall meetings and to work with demographer Josina Morita of Grapple LLC.
“Koutsky will be working with the board and the committee, assess what the committee is saying and bringing it to the board,” Pierog said. "
More recently, Pierog also hired Franklin Ramirez “to help with the logistics” of the town hall meetings.
Koutsky introduces the reapportionment and census issues, the requirements of the Voting Rights Act and provides information about how different districts have grown among various population groups.
Ramirez then asks members of the public to ask questions or give input.
He also invites county residents to email him at RamirezFranklin@co.kane.il.us or call him at 847-815-7861 for more information.
Ramirez is a Democratic committeeman in Elgin Precinct 17 and the former supervisor of Elgin Township. Ramirez lost to Republican Ken Bruderle in the April 6 general election.
“He has such a good input with the marketing and knowledge of municipalities and township government,” Pierog said. “He is good for helping to send out notices and invitations on Facebook and raising public awareness.”
As Ramirez currently is unemployed, Pierog said the county contracted with a temporary employment agency to have him help out for 10 to 15 hours a week.
The County Board authorized the spending of $5,000 on town halls for the reapportionment committee, which includes employees and the rental space, Pierog said.
“It’s a modest amount to get community input,” Pierog said.
One of the benefits of the town hall meetings, she said, is that people stay and continue to talk.
“Conversations that happen afterward are critically important,” Pierog said. “People relax and come up and discuss. … Everyone says, ‘Thank you, now I know what mapping is about.’”
The Kane County Chronicle filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the Koutsky and Jocina contracts, and for information about Ramirez from the temp agency, as well what they are being paid and résumés for all three.