by Dan Chalifoux, Legislator Chair, Reapportionment Committee
In a recent letter to the editor, entitled “Politics as Usual.” Legislator Dan Farfaglia once again attempted to mislead the public with regard to a process being used to bring Oswego County’s legislative districts in compliance with state and federal laws. It is only fair that readers are fully informed as to what this project involves and why it is being undertaken.
Every 10 years following the decennial census, governments, from the feds on down, are required to examine the districts they have developed to ensure that the public is fairly and equally represented by the elective officials serving in that respective body. The Oswego County Legislature is no different than Congress or the state legislature in that regard.
In New York State, one of the highest priorities set forth in the guidelines for this process is having your voting districts as equal as possible with respect to the number of people in each one. They do allow for some leeway in that you can be up to 5% higher or lower than the median number of citizens derived by dividing the total population (as determined by the most recent Census) by the number of districts.
The federal government (Census Bureau) has determined that the population of Oswego County is 122,109 and that is the only number that matters when considering if our 25 districts were in compliance with the law. As it turned out when we did this analysis, we had five districts with too many people and six districts with too few so changes were inevitable.
Legislator Dan Farfaglia made reference to some data that was found to be incorrect and he was right. On a preliminary chart, there was a column labeled 2000 that should have read 1990 but at the end of the day that column was used only as a comparison to demonstrate that there had been some change in population and was not at all relevant to the fact that out current district populations needed to be adjusted.
We could have labeled that column 1960 or 1930 or even 1890, the column itself had nothing to do with the calculations used to determine whether or not we needed to redistrict.
If Legislator Farfaglia had actually taken the time to call the staff involved, come into the office and inquire or ask a question in the committee he would have known that but he did not choose to seek the facts or even visit with the staff to see how the process worked, as many of the other interested legislators did. Had be done so he might actually understand what has been done and why.
In a separate section of his latest grandstanding effort, Legislator Farfaglia makes reference to an inquiry that he made to the county planning office earlier this summer. July 16, he requested some information from that office and he was promptly told that he should make that request through the committee chair. He did so and told me that he thought the district maps on the Board of Elections web site were somewhat confusing and he was seeking a tool to help people better understand those district boundaries.
I agreed and subsequently asked the Planning Department staff to produce something for this purpose. Seven working days later, Legislator Farfaglia had a digital map of the county with the legislative boundaries clearly marked. The map was designed so that it was easily accessed by viewers and had the capabilities of being able to zoom in to any spot in the county to determine where the legislative boundaries were. Not really sure what about that was unprofessional, uncooperative or adversarial. He asked for a specialized product for a specific purpose and we delivered it to him within a week.
In the three months following the delivery of the map, Legislator Farfaglia has made no attempt to explore how we were developing the new district lines but he did, as he referenced, make a proposal to do it differently. At the request of Chairman Beardsley, we analyzed his comments and compared them to the proposal that had been developed using sophisticated software designed specifically for the purpose of redistricting and pre-loaded with up to date census files.
In the end, the committee preferred the latter as it came significantly closer to getting all of the districts closer to having the same number of constituents, the number one priority in the State guidelines.
I would also like to point out that when Legislator Farfaglia made his first accusations regarding possible impropriety he had investigated none of the facts but simply contacted the media and sought their assurance.
Representatives of the local media contacted the planning office and were invited to come in and be given demonstrations on how the software works and all of their inquiries were answered both then and in the days after.
As a result they kept the public informed about the project and the process in an informed and balanced manner. An option that was open to Legislator Farfaglia is he had only done his homework.
Our goal was to bring Oswego County into compliance by striving for population equity, to the extent possible, amongst the districts.
We also felt that you, the public, had elected the 25 sitting legislators and that it would be inappropriate for us to draw the new lines in such a way that took a legislator out of their district or forced any of the 25 to have to run against each other in order to keep their place as your representative.
And finally, I need to point out that at no time in the process did we ever consider the political party affiliation of the voters in Oswego County. Our process was based solely on general population numbers specifically to avoid accusations such as “Politics as Usual.”