Featured photo: Flint City Councilperson Tonya Burns expressed herself at a recent MICRC meeting.
Written by Tanya Terry
Despite concerns expressed by community activists and an opinion written by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, at a recent Michigan Independent Citizen’s Redistricting Commission (MICRC) Meeting, the commission voted not to release memos or recording and audio from a closed session that was held previously.
Nessel wrote that assuming the Commission used the two legal memos to inform the mapping process, the memos could not continue to be kept confidential. Nessel did not receive copies of the memos. She did know the titles: “Voting Rights Act” and “The history of discrimination in the state of Michigan and its influence on voting.”
Some of the commissioners and attorneys at the meeting acknowledged litigation would be possible, though the Commission’s legal team maintained the position that attorney-client privilege would hold up in court.
Attorney David Fink, a litigation attorney and managing partner with Fink Bressack, told the Commission once they waive the attorney-client privilege, in most contexts, it is a “very, very slippery slope” and “very dangerous”
“Once you waive the attorney-client privilege in one case-and excuse me for mixing the metaphor, but that’s a genie you can’t put back in the bottle,” he warned.
Commissioner Brittni Kellom said she tended to agree with what their counsel had shared and said she would continue to have faith in those hired. She also said she agreed nothing was nefarious about the closed session, nor was it meant to be deceitful in any way.
“I don’t think we have the time to be picked apart-all the wonderful work that we’ve done to redistrict and stick together,” she said.
Along with Kellom (D) Vice Chair MC Rothhorn (D), and Commissioners Cynthia Orton (R), Janice Vallette (I), Richard Weiss (I) Dustin Witjes (D) and Juanita Curry (D) voted against releasing the memos.
Chair Rebecca Szetela (I), commissioners Steve Lett (I), Erin Wagner (R), Anthony Eid, (I) and Rhonda Lange (R) voted to release the memos.
Lett, who voted to release the memos, voted against releasing the recording of the closed session after the commission voted not the release the memos. He said he believed information regarding the memos would be given when the recording was released.
The other commissioner voted the same way they voted about the memos in regards to releasing the recording.
Michigan Congressional, Michigan State Senate and Michigan State House maps have been proposed by the Commission.
Many of those who offered public comment remotely or in person concerning the maps said the House maps in particular still needed work. Some of those who commented were from Flint. Speakers from across the state expressed their belief the Hickory was “least bad” of the House maps.
6th Ward City Councilperson Tonya Burns spoke to the Commission.
“We agree with the Congressional map Birch V2,” she said. “It keeps Flint together. It connects with Saginaw and other industrial industries. “
Burns said she agreed with Senate map Linden because it keeps Flint whole and because of the representation it allows for Flint. She also said she recommended the House map Hickory with additional modifications.
“The Black voting population was lowered in the two House districts covering Flint, diminishing Black voting power and possible representation,” Burns noted. “None of the maps have been proposed are partisan or fair.”
Many Flint residents continued to request the Commission utilize map P7273, being their preferred map. The map is not one of the proposed, published maps the Commission is currently scheduled to vote on December 28. It focuses solely on the Flint area and not other areas in Michigan as the maps being considered do. However, Commission members have indicated aspects of the map have been used in their mapping process. Several Flint residents and community partners created the map.
Richard Jones, another resident of Flint, said he spoke as a representative of many in the city.
“We really want P7273,” he said.
The map could not be pulled up for viewers of the meeting, despite Jones’ request to bring the map up during the meeting.
“It would be very nice of y’all if you could set up some kind of another meeting in the city of Flint to where we could pull this up and discuss this map because, like all the speakers earlier that spoke, I’m going to ditto that; Y’all trying to take away the 34th District in Flint,” Jones said. “It’s not fair. The bipartisan vote-to be honest-I just feel the whole way that y’all doing this process is not fair or right, and y’all are not as transparent as I would expect y’all to be when I went out there and hustled to get this (commission) put on the ballot to get this gerrymandering thing-situation straightened out.”
Several residents statewide told the Commission the Palm Senate map was the worst of the proposed maps.
“The worst possible map is the Palm,” said one Grand Blanc resident who also said she works for the International UAW.
“We’re asking you to please not vote for the Palm,” she added.
The resident told the Commission if they were going to vote for the current maps, though not perfect, the Cherry version 2 or Linden were the best for the Senate, despite the maps not being at zero partisan fairness yet.
“For the House maps, the best of the worst…is Hickory,” she expressed.
The next MICRC meeting is scheduled for Thursday, December 16 in Detroit. MICRC meetings are available through livestream at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCV6jjqXOWO2BUtKOFn8Mo8w/videos
To view the proposed Michigan Congressional, Michigan State Senate and Michigan State House maps, visit https://www.michigan.gov/micrc.