Voters left out in county politics

By Crystal A. Proxmire

Oakland County residents are losing representation as a coordinated Republican effort to gain control of the redistricting process has succeeded. The Commission will be cut from 25 commissioners to 21, and control over drawing the districts has been taken from the apportionment committee and handed to the representatives themselves.

The Republicans are also increasing their power as a seat left vacant by a Democrat from Auburn Hills and Pontiac was filled by appointing a Republican, violating the Board's own rule set in 1975. Not only was Commissioner Tim Greimel's seat given to a Republican, the seat (and the $32,000 salary that goes along with it) was given to Angela River, the owner of a hair salon in Auburn Hills with little in the way of electoral success, a history of drunk driving, and an application with spelling and grammatical errors. According to The Detroit Free Press, "River ran for the seat in 2010, finishing third in the Republican primary. She also ran for the Auburn Hills City Council in 2009, finishing 12 out of 14 candidates. She won a seat on the Auburn Hills Public Library Board of Trustees in November." She was also the Vice-Chair of the Oakland County Republican Party.

The Detroit Free Press article also stated, "Commissioner David Potts, R-Birmingham, said he voted for River even though he didn't agree with fellow Republicans about the appointment." In the article Potts goes on to explain that if the Republicans wouldn't have appointed someone, there would have had to have been a special election. Had a special election been considered, the voters in Pontiac and Auburn Hills would have been the ones deciding who should represent them for the remainder of 2011.

"There seems to be no limits the Republican majority will go to take power away from voters," said County Commissioner Marcia Gershenson, co-chair of the Democratic Caucus. "To appoint someone who does not share the values of voters they will represent in this traditionally Democratic district is wrong and unfair to voters."

Commissioner Craig Covey, who represents Ferndale, Hazel Park and part of Royal Oak said, "I voted against Angela River to replace Tim Greimel in the Democratic seat that includes Auburn Hills and Pontiac. Her resume cover letter was filled with grammatical and spelling errors, and now it comes out that she has a restricted driver's license with three drunk driving convictions, one being a felony. She is a Republican, and I spoke out during the vote that we should replace a Democrat with another Democrat to be fair."

Democrats are looking into potential avenues to reclaim the seat in Auburn Hills and Pontiac. In the meantime, Covey is planning a fundraiser on May 1 at One Eyed Bettys in Ferndale to raise money to fight the redistricting decision.

Patterson power grab

"The Republican Power grab continues, and we will need to raise funds if the Democrats want to continue to fight this in court and politically," Covey said. "Taken together, my prediction has come true, which is that the partisan politics that people hate coming out of Lansing and Washington has now come home to roost in Oakland County, and that the kinds of corruption that Brooks likes to make fun of in Wayne County, is now rearing its ugly head in our own."

"Republicans are rigging the system and changing the rules to undermine the decision of Oakland County voters," said County Commissioner Dave Woodward, co-chair of the Democratic Caucus. "This is not Republicans versus Democrats; this is Republicans versus democracy, justice, and the rule of law. Oakland County voters deserve better."

Kevin Howley, who most recently served as interim executive director of Affirmations, is currently running against L. Brooks Patterson for position of Oakland County Executive. In a recent press release, Howley said "The decision demonstrated to voters that partisan politics trumps the rule of law. More importantly, it demonstrated that with Republicans holding substantial majorities in both houses of the legislature and on the county commission, coupled with a partisan Supreme Court and a Republican governor, citizens are left without checks and balances in the system."

The redistricting issue has gone through the court system. Courts determined that the maps drawn by the Apportionment Committee were legal and fair. Instead of accepting the determination, the Republicans, led by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, coordinated a political effort to change the laws regarding districts. Although it only affects Oakland County, PA 280 caps representation at 21 and gives the power to the draw the lines to the Commissioners themselves. The Appeals Court sided with the Democrats, ruling that this was a local law and required 2/3 of the state legislature to pass. The Republicans appealed and the Supreme Court ruled in their favor. The four Republican-appointed Justices supported the new law, and the three Democratically-appointed ones dissented.

Later this week, the lines will be drawn in special meetings. A vote is expected by April 13. Not only does the move cut representation, it leaves Democratic candidates at a disadvantage because even though election season is well underway, they have no idea what districts they may or may not be in. Those that have already filed petitions, like Covey, will have to start over once the new districts are drawn.

Patterson's office had denied having anything to do with the decisions made at the state level. However it was later determined that Patterson had exchanged many emails and spent over $130,000 of taxpayer money to fund the coordinated political effort.

Emails obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request reveal the planning process. Patterson and other Republicans exchanged emails about how to best get the legislation passed quickly and under the radar of the public, and even concocted the reduction of the number of representatives as their reasoning for wanting a change.

"I guess it would also help to have a legitimate explanation as to why we waited until now, after redistricting plans have been submitted, to take these bills up. I'm thinking that we claim we were having trouble agreeing on how many seats the BOC would ultimately have," wrote Rep. Eileen Kowall (R-White Lake), on Sept. 6, 2011. This and other emails indicate the extent of the politicking that occurred.

Patterson issued a statement about the ruling, stating "Michigan Supreme Court ruling is a victory for the taxpayers and residents of Oakland County. Not only will they save $2.5 million over 10 years by reducing the number of county commissioners, but they will benefit from their accountable, elected officials drawing county commission district lines, not unaccountable political party bosses."

Covey remains hopeful and vigilant. "We still don't know where Ferndale will land in this new redistricting, we may know within days how the new Republican map looks. I plan to run for re-election to the County Commission regardless of how they mess around with our cities. I just want to try and make sure that Ferndale, Royal Oak, and Hazel Park get to be well represented, whether that be by myself, or another person elected," he said. "I hope that people will start to pay attention to these underhanded political acts and will get more involved. Come to the fundraiser. Come to meetings. Protest. Have your voice heard. That's what politics is all about."

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