Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lots of interesting things at the Redistricting Meeting and the 9/12 Project

A plethora of public servants were on hand today at the Peoria County Board chambers for the Illinois State Redistricting Meeting, along with a sizable crowd of concerned public members. Among the public servants, Jehan Gordon, David Leitch, Michael Unes, as well as several others. An Illinois House employee, Mr. John Maxin (sp) was on hand to give an excellent overview of the process facing the Illinois house, and the legal requirements and process was explained in a straightforward and forthright manner. The floor was then given over to those who had registered to speak.
Mr. Allen Mayer of the Peoria County Board spoke first, with an admonition that he was addressing the board as a private citizen. His main emphasis was the protection of African American voting rights, which was all well and good, but when asked his feelings about the other minority communities, such as the asian and hispanic communities that are becoming prevalent minorities, he had little to say. Guess they aren't a voting block he was concerned about.
Mr. Stephen Morris, also on the Peoria County Board, spoke to caution the committee on the dangers of making changes on a strictly partisan agenda, saying they should be cautious to take the "pulse of the public" and work in the best interests of the community.
Next was Mr. Lonnie Whisker on behalf of the Tri-County Urban League who spoke to the needs and wants of the African American and "disadvantaged" communities. His concern, speaking for the Urban League, was that effective redistricting should consider the needs and wants of the "minority" communities in the area.
Donald R. Jackson, President of the Illinois Conference of the NAACP and the Peoria Chapter of the NAACP, spoke to the necessity of considering an area of influence where it was not possible to create a minority district. His comments were well founded and based on the last redistricting in 2001, which led to the election of Senator Barrack Obama, and ultimately produced the first African American President. He stated he was in favor of counting inmates (there are a proportionately larger number of African Americans and Hispanics in prison in Illinois) as residents of the area they would ultimately be returned to when considering redistricting.
Bernie Miller, a private citizen, was next. Mr. Miller spoke to considering the same type of distribution as is in practice in the state of Iowa. He is against districts that are based on minority considerations and other factors, and thinks they isolate some members from effective representation.
Charles Gabbert from the Lindhurst Home Owners Association was also against the Illinois system of redistricting, claiming that our long history of "jerrymandering" has led to the current problems of the state. He feels that districts should be community based, not spread out so broadly that some people never have access to the issues or the representatives.
Doug Crew, Vice President of Government Relations for the Peoria Chamber of Commerce, said that we are in a current "Fiscal Abyss" and that Illinois leaders are looking for a change in the way we do business in Illinois. He spoke about the companies who have been approached by other states to relocate, and stated that the current trends require an "Open Process".
Next was Irene Brown, the President of the Peoria Black Chamber of Commerce. Her admonition to the committee: "You are messing with people's lives." She spoke about her experiences in different zip codes, both poor and rich, and urged the committee to consider Diversity in Redistricting. She pointed out that the current map does not allow for redevelopment or opportunities for people in those poorer areas, and that the district lines need to be drawn to be inclusive, not segregated. Her words were eloquent and passionate.
General Parker, the youth advocate and unsuccessful candidate for the latest School Board election, spoke as a private citizen and voiced his objections to the Iowa model discussed by Mr. Miller. He stated that a system that would not provide for minority representation would be unfair and violate the Illinois Voting Rights Act.

So there were a lot of opinions voiced and a lot of feedback to the committee, which was what this meeting was to provide. Unfortunately, I was unable to stay for the remainder of the meeting, but the diversity of comments makes it a sure bet this will not be an easy task for the committee. I have to say I was impressed by the openness of the meeting and the willingness of the participants and committee members to discuss opinions.

As my intermission, and the reason for my early departure, the press conference by Matthew Woodmancy, the young man who has announced his candidacy for the U.S. Congressional seat in 2012, was a non-event. I know Matt was fully prepared to answer questions about his past and to state reasons for his decision to run. However, Karen McDonald of the Journal Star did run an interesting and informative article resulting from a phone interview. Here is the story.

And now we come to the 9/12 Project and their guest speaker, Mr. Brian Costin of the Illinois Policy Institute. His topic was a local Transparency in Government project that is currently being undertaken by several members of the Tea Party affiliate. Mr. Costin was very specific in his talk, letting the members in attendance from Peoria and other 9/12 groups that the purpose of the Transparency in Government project was not to target local politicos or public servants, but to ensure local governments were in compliance with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requirements. He discussed how to "audit" local government websites and demonstrated some "grading" information used in determining the level of compliance. He took several questions and spoke until approximately 7:30. At that time, Jody Pitcher, founder and leader of the Peoria 9/12 Project, cleared the room of the observers and convened a local meeting.

The Transparency in Government project, if handled correctly, should be a "wake up call" for the Peoria City Council, one that might turn this city around. I believe there are several members of the 9/12 Project who will pursue this project with a passion, and I do believe that Mr. Costin's organization will be instrumental in revealing some very "interesting" workings in the last few years in Peoria and the surrounding area.

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