Debate Over Champaign County Board Makeup to Continue
The Champaign County Board discussed proposals Tuesday night to reduce the number of county board seats and possible switch to single-member districts. But board members remained divided on an issue that could be a point of contention for months to come.
How a county board member feels about changing the board's size and district make up seems to depend on how they feel about county board attendance. Republican John Jay says the county board doesn't do a perfect job, but it's certainly not terrible.
"I think that we are representative of the county with the current status of the county board", says Jay. "Everybody seems to be bent on cutting it down, and I'm not sure why."
But Urbana Democrat Brendan McGinty supports a smaller county board. He says having 27 seats on the board leads to uneven performance --- and he says the voters notice it.
"I get comments like 'watching a meeting is like watching grass grow'. Or, 'how do you stand it?'", says McGinty.
A public hearing on the county board makeup drew comments from six people who were divided on the issue. County board members were divided, too. Both the hearing testimony and county board discussion included concerns from rural residents that changes to the board's makeup might reduce rural representation.
But Republican County Board member Greg Knott --- a longtime advocate for a smaller county board --- says reducing the board's size and switching to single-member districts doesn't have to hurt rural residents.
"You know, you can make a case on both circumstances which might be better", says Knott. I did some back-of-the envelope calculations and I can, through whichever way, single or multi, even with a variation in the size of numbers .. you can insure if a map is drawn, that there's equal representation between the rural and the urban areas."
However, Knott said on Wednesday that he's still undecided on the single-member district proposal, and is leaning towards keeping multi-member districts. Backers of the current three-member districts say they promote diversity on the county board and help ensure that county residents can always find a board member in their district who will listen to their concern.
A proposal from Urbana Democrat Steve Beckett addresses support for multi-member districts. Beckett's plan would reduce the county board to 18 members, grouped into nine districts with two members each. Policy Committee Chair Tom Betz is sticking with his proposal for 17 single-member districts. Meanwhile, he says he'll keep the subject on the Policy Committee agenda for the next few meetings.
NOTE: This story has been revised from its broadcast version, which incorrectly stated that County Board Member Knott supports single-member districts.