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Sullivan redistricting plan adopted; criticism leveled over transparency

The voting districts in Sullivan County have shifted due to redrawing after the 2010 census. The orange areas indicate where changes occurred.

By Fritz Mayer
July 18, 2014

The Sullivan County Legislature on July 17 considered new election districts during two lengthy meetings and a public hearing. With little time to make a decision, Legislator Cindy Gieger asked, “With one public hearing and then a vote, at what time do we consider constituents' concerns?”

The concerns about timing were laid out by Rodney Gaebel, one of two commissioners of the Board of Elections (BOE). He said from the day the board adopts a redistricting plan, the public has 45 days to come up with enough signatures on a petition, about 2,500, to force a permissive referendum on the matter.

He said, “Forty-five days from today is September 2. The BOE must have the proposition properly worded submitted to the State of New York to have it approved by the 29th of September. Gaebel said if the legislature postponed the vote for more than about a week, it’s likely that the deadline would be missed, which would force the county to hold a special election on the matter at considerable expense to the taxpayers.

At one point in the afternoon meeting Legislator Cora Edwards asked what could be done in a week’s time to address the concerns with the plan.

Gaebel said a week is not enough time to change the plan because the process would need to go back to square one.

There had been criticism from the supervisors of the towns of Highland and Lumberland that those towns should be in a district with the Town of Tusten, which is also a river town, and not grouped with the Town of Mamakating, which is not a river town.

Legislator Jonathan Rouis touched on that point when he defended the process of creating the new map and also countered Geiger’s remark that the process happened too much behind closed doors.
Rouis said, “When we started the process this board charged the (redistricting committee) with a couple of things. We had the choice of saying we want to blow the maps up and start over; we said, we all said, we didn’t want to do that. There was a charge from day one to draw lines that had the least impact on the general public, so this idea of a river district, we decided not to go down that route on day one, everybody…”

Gieger interjected, “in the closed door meetings.”

Rouis said, “No, that was done in public, Cindy. Just because you say it’s so, doesn’t make it so. This board said explicitly to this group, bring us a plan that has a minimal impact of changes, which they did.”