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Oakland Dems: Emails Show Gop Plot To Gain Redistricting Control


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Pontiac — Oakland County Democrats say emails they released Tuesday prove Republican state legislators and county officials plotted to shift control of redistricting in the county for partisan political gain.

 

The emails, obtained under Michigan's Freedom of Information Act, show a section of the law that would shrink the county Board of Commissioners from 25 to 21 members was a pretext for giving the GOP-controlled board control of electoral maps, Democratic Party Chairman Frank Houston said.

 

The email release came on the eve of today's hearing before the Michigan Supreme Court, which plans to hear oral arguments in a suit over the redistricting law.

 

"It's shocking to see the amount of taxpayer dollars and work hours that has been and continues to be spent on this obvious power grab," said Houston, who requested the emails under the state's Freedom of Information Act.

 

Republicans have argued the law would save Oakland County $250,000 a year by slimming the county commission.

 

Houston said more than 200 pages of documents released by Republican officials in Oakland County, including emails between state lawmakers, show the measure passed in December was meant to overturn maps approved by the county's apportionment commission, which has a 3-2 Democratic majority.

 

According to county Democrats, the emails include a Sept. 6 message from state Rep. Eileen Kowall, R-White Lake.

 

"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," Kowall wrote, according to a release from the Democrats. "I'm thinking that we claim we were having trouble agreeing on how many seats the BOC would ultimately have."

 

In another Sept. 6 email, county Clerk Bill Bullard, a Republican, urged lawmakers to take quick action on the legislation and enlist Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson to help gather support.

 

"It's now or never for these bills," Bullard said in the email. "It can only happen if 1) Brooks speaks personally with the Speaker. … Brooks should offer to address the House Republican caucus to explain the importance of the bills AND 2) Rep. Kowall, Rep. (Marty) Knollenberg and others … ask the Speaker to make this the subject of a caucus meeting this week."

 

Kowall downplayed the emails Tuesday as "just part of the legislative process."

 

"I was trying to make smaller government for Oakland County citizens," she said.

 

Knollenberg, who was a recipient of some of the emails, said Tuesday he never even read them.

 

"I've not seen the emails," Knollenberg said. "I think this was an attempt to save taxpayers a quarter of a million dollars. Unfortunately, the Democrats aren't in favor of saving taxpayer money."

 

Houston said the emails show Patterson "conspired" with Republican commissioners to violate the Open Meetings Act and personally engaged Gov. Rick Snyder on the bill. Snyder signed the bill Dec. 19.

 

Patterson and Snyder were on a trade mission in Europe on Tuesday and unavailable for comment. Bullard could not be reached for comment.

 

Democrats contend the law is a local act because it only applies to Oakland County, and as a result required a two-thirds majority to pass the Legislature — a threshold that was not met. Republicans insist the law is legal.

 

Oakland County Chief Deputy Executive Gerald Poisson noted the emails were released the day before the state Supreme Court hears the dispute, calling it "nothing more than an attempt to influence the Supremes."

 

State Rep. Vicki Barnett, D-Farmington Hills, said the emails show a "collusionary attempt" to keep the GOP in control of the county commission. "This is a major breach in the trust in our government," she said.

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