Board to vote Tuesday on how to redistrict county

Published 7:16 am Saturday, April 16, 2022

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday will vote on how to redistrict the county commissioner districts for the next decade and potentially beyond. 

The commissioners on Tuesday discussed the four options before the board during a workshop. 

A public hearing will be held on Tuesday about the plans, and then later in the meeting, the commissioners are expected to approve one of the options.  

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Redistricting is the process of redrawing the boundaries of election districts to ensure that the people of each district are equally represented. Local, state and federal government units consider redistricting for elected offices after the U.S. Census every 10 years.

“At the end of the day, this is your decision,” Freeborn County Administrator Tom Jensen said to the commissioners Tuesday during the start of the discussion. 

He credited Auditor-Treasurer Pat Martinson and employee Tim Fulton for their work in creating the plans and incorporating the wishes of the commissioners into the plans. Jensen said all four of the plans meet the requirements necessary at the state level, though he noted the Secretary of State encourages local governments to make the least number of disruptions as possible. 

Plan B gives the 1st and 2nd District commissioners a majority of the geographical space in the county, while the 3rd, 4th and 5th District commissioners would only cover space inside Albert Lea city limits. 

Fifth District Commissioner Ted Herman said the biggest concern he has heard in that plan is that three of the commissioners would have no area out in the county to represent and would only be in Albert Lea.

First District Commissioner Brad Edwin said the people who have contacted him have talked about the importance of having more commissioners in rural areas to give them a better understanding of rural issues, including county roads and ditches. 

Edwin said he felt the best option was Plan D, which gives each commissioner part of the city of Albert Lea and several townships in the county, except for the 3rd District commissioner, who would only cover area within the city. 

Plan C divides up the rural parts in the county for the 1st, 2nd and 5th district commissioners, with the 3rd and 4th districts solely in the city limits. The 1st District commissioner would cover almost the entire top half of the county in the rural areas.

Plan E, which is the newest option, is similar to D in that four of the commissioners would cover area both within Albert Lea and out in the county, except in that scenario, the 4th District commissioner would be the only one solely within city limits.

“We haven’t had an opportunity like this for 30 years,” Edwin said. “And 10 years from now when they do another census, there might not be this opportunity because the numbers may not change enough to make it happen.”

“Plan D gives the opportunity for us currently and future commissioners to understand, know and grow the county — I really do.” 

Second District Commissioner Dan Belshan, who has announced he will not seek reelection, described the decision as a “fairness issue” — noting that 90% of the work in the county — whether it’s maintenance of bridges, snow removal, feedlots, septic systems or other things — should not only be on the backs of two commissioners. 

He said if a commissioner has constituents in both the city of Albert Lea and the rural townships, it forces the commissioners to think of both types of constituents when they are making their decisions.

“When you’re voting you have to think of both, ‘How is this affecting my constituents in Albert Lea? How is this affecting my constituents in the rural townships?’”

He said it also forces the commissioners to go out and meet with the township boards.

The public hearing about the redistricting is planned for 8:45 a.m. Tuesday, with action expected to be taken later in the meeting.