By Stephanie Malench
Madison County Board Chair Kurt Prenzler called a public hearing on May 18 to answer questions from the community about the redistricting map he presented to the board on May 11. Board members attended remotely so the public could look at the maps without feeling pressured and cramped.
Every ten years after the census, counties throughout the state of Illinois have the opportunity to redraw their districts to have equal representation. Prenzler wanted to take advantage of the redrawing of lines to reduce the number of county board seats and commissioned the University of Illinois-Springfield geography department to create a new map reducing the number of districts from 29 to 25 using the following criteria: “’no bias’ and following the Illinois laws requiring districts to be a) nearly equal in population, b) compact, and c) to follow township, municipal and precinct lines if possible”.
The County has had 29 districts and seats on the board since before the current Illinois Constitution was passed in 1970. According to Jack Minner (D- Edwardsville) in the 1950s the board was comprised of 2 people from each township for a total of 44 members back in the 1950s. Minner expressed satisfaction with the current board structure, saying “we operate well at 29 members”.
The redistricting is based on numbers from the 2020 census, which is estimated to be between 263,000 and 264,000, down from 269,298 in 2010. This decrease accounts for nearly one third of the population loss in Illinois this census.
Prenzler defends his decision to reduce the number of county board seats on state trends of similar sized counties reducing their number of seats. Critics say although similar sized counties have fewer board members, they pay more than Madison County in salaries, with other board members making between $40,000 and $60,000.
Three citizens attended, two of whom were former board members, and expressed concerns about the rationale behind reducing the number of board members, asking if it was being done as a cost saving measure or something else.
A common concern of both residents and board members was whether or not board members would be receiving a higher salary to compensate for having larger districts to win elections in, meet with constituents, and attend more committee meetings. Prenzler replied several times that it would be up to the board to decide if they wanted to increase their salaries.
One of the concerned citizens, Lisa Ciampoli, had served on the Madison County board from 2010-2018 and was narrowly defeated in November trying to unseat Illinois state Senator Katie Stewart, said her biggest concern with reducing the number of seats on the board is for the people of Madison County. Ciampoli said the move will not save money if the board members request higher wages, and the savings if four seats are eliminated without raises is only $60,000 per year.
Ciampoli said she could be sold on a smaller board if pros and cons had been delivered with the new districts. She said “if you are going to put something in place, have everything in place (salaries, workloads, and committees)” before presenting something to the public.
“Larger territories”, Ciampoli reasoned, “will keep common people who want to serve from doing so without the backing of one of the major parties”. Ciampoli also argued that fewer people will lead to a higher risk of corruption and the people have less control with fewer representatives.
In an interview after the meeting, Chris Guy (R-Maryville), the Chair of the Government Relations and Finance & Government Operations committees, stresses the importance of the public providing input on maps as they become available because it is going to affect the residents for the next ten years.
Guy also stresses that less seats does not mean less cost to tax payers and less members equals less representation. Guy had two other maps drawn up, one with 27 representatives (a loss of two) and another with the full 29 that he would be presenting to the full board during the regular meeting on May 19.
Guy concluded saying “I could not live with myself voting to reduce the board size and giving myself a $40,000 raise”.
Link to Kurt Prenzler’s map: Proposed 25 (madison.il.us)