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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Michigan redistricting commissioners reverse their own pay raise

commission meeting
(Screenshot)

LANSING—Bowing to public and political backlash, Michigan redistricting commissioners on Thursday voted to rescind a pay raise they gave themselves in February after they had completed new congressional and legislative maps.

The 13-member panel voted to restore their own pay to $55,755 per year, reversing an earlier 7 percent raise. Their salaries are again now set at 35 percent of the governor's.

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"Certainly, there have been a number of public comments that weren't very complimentary" of the initial pay raise, Commissioner Steven Lett told reporters after the meeting. "We took those into consideration, and I think all the commissioners gave it a second thought."

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Brittni Kellom, a Democrat, was the only commissioner on the bipartisan panel to vote against the pay change. Members had considered reversing the pay increase at earlier meetings as they also continued to debate when — and how — to disband until new political maps need to be drawn again in 10 years after the next U.S. Census.

The commission completed most of its work by late December, but there are two ongoing lawsuits challenging the legislative and congressional maps they created, which are set to be used for the first time in Michigan’s fall elections. 

As Bridge Michigan has previously reported, the voter-approved constitutional amendment that created the citizen-led redistricting commission in 2018 did not include a clear expiration date for the panel. 

Members considering whether to disband are expecting a legal opinion from their attorneys by April 8. If the commission does choose to disband, commissioner pay would stop 30 days later, said Edward Woods III, communications and outreach director.

"No one's trying to be here in perpetuity, and no one's trying to waste taxpayers' money, but we're trying to be responsible to the constitution," Woods said. "We want to be done. Don't mistake it. But we want to be done correctly."

Along with ongoing lawsuits, the commission needs to pay all outstanding bills before its work is complete, Woods said. Current budget funding from the Michigan Legislature will "possibly" last through April, outgoing Executive Director Sue Hammersmith told reporters. 

But the panel is preparing to ask for an additional allocation, Hammersmith added, noting the commission could run into a "shortfall" because of ongoing litigation and attorney fees associated with "defending the maps" in court. 

The commission's map-making process has been a first for Michigan, where lawmakers had long drawn their own political boundaries, leading to what a federal judge in 2019 called gerrymandering of "historical proportions."

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The commission's maps have faced legal challenges too. An ongoing GOP lawsuit alleges the congressional maps do not adhere to equal population rules. Another alleges state House maps are not fair to Democrats. 

The pay raise debate resolved Thursday reinforced the public nature of the new commission, said Wood, the communications and outreach director.

"It really speaks to what I like to say is the greatest civics lesson in the world, the Michigan independent citizens redistricting commission, because it's truly government for the people, by the people, and they actually listen and you can trace how they listen through their decisions."

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