Nominate your favorite local business in the 2018 Best Of Greater Williamsburg Contest

In split vote, James City County supervisors turn aside redistricting resolution

Jimmy LaRoue

— When Roberts District supervisor John McGlennon became interested in putting forth a redistricting resolution for James City County supervisors to consider, he said he was responding to residents who had concerns about fair elections.

Those residents, he said, felt like elections were only serving partisan interests, and not necessarily the will of the people.

McGlennon, a Democrat, used OneVirginia 2021's template for a redistricting resolution, but added language about local elections. OneVirginia 2021 calls itself an advocacy group for fair elections in Virginia.

"What I'm suggesting ... is something that, on the one hand, is an expression of our strong support for redistricting reform, and on the other hand, commits us to do something about our own redistricting," McGlennon said during Tuesday's board of supervisors meeting.

But in a split vote, supervisors turned aside the redistricting resolution 3-2, with the three supervisors voting against it — chairman Kevin Onizuk (Jamestown District), Michael Hipple (Powhatan District) and Sue Sadler (Stonehouse District) — saying they had concerns about the potential involvement of county staff in redistricting. Sadler added that the current method of redistricting doesn't need to be fixed. All three ran as Republicans.

"I'm not sure trying to fix something that may not necessarily be broken is the answer," Sadler said.

During a public hearing earlier in the evening, five people spoke in favor of the resolution and one against it.

The resolution specified that the board of supervisors supported redistricting reform in Virginia and James City County for congressional districts, state legislative districts and local election districts.

It also called for transparent and nonpartisan districting, and stated that reform is necessasry "to eliminate the conflict of interest that allows General Assembly and board of supervisors members to pick their voters."

The resolution also said political data should be excluded from the districting process.

In addition to including county staff in developing a local redistricting plan, the resolution also said supervisors would be committed to nonpartisan districting for local election districts which elect supervisors and school board members.

While the three supervisors voting against the resolution praised current county staff, Hipple said he did not want county staff to be in the driver's seat on redistricting. Onizuk said he had significant concerns about the resolution, even though he said he liked the concept of having fair districts.

"Staff could not only have an undercurrent of a partisan agenda but it could be a particular agenda of ousting your bosses that you don't like," Onizuk said, and added, "I think putting staff in this position, even if we give them direction, can put them in precarious position."

Vice chair Ruth Larson (Berkeley District), an independent, supported the resolution.

"I do believe that this is a nonpartisan issue and it has the backing of a lot of people," Larson said.

LaRoue can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

Copyright © 2018, The Virginia Gazette