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Redistricting commission doubles down on raises

JP Valery

Michigan's redistricting commission is standing by its decision to give itself a 7% pay raise.

Last month, the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission approved a cost-of-living-adjustment for itself, citing rising inflation. It faced heavy public backlash for doing so.

At Thursday’s meeting, the group voted down a motion to reconsider the choice by a vote of 6-6.

During the discussion, Commissioner Rhonda Lange questioned the need for the pay raise.

“Personally, I check email like once a day and check the public comment online like twice a week. What work are we doing that makes it where we should have a 7% pay raise,” Lange asked.

She received some support, with Commissioner Douglas Clark suggesting the commission drop their salary below previous levels.

But other members of the commission vehemently disagreed.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m still busy,” newly elected vice chair Dustin Witjes said.

He pointed to time-intensive work he did converting numerical data into a visual map in response to a federal lawsuit as evidence of the work he’s still doing.

During the meeting, Commissioner Brittni Kellom, who maintained full-time employment while serving, called a comment suggesting commissioners unhappy with their pay should look for a second job “both inappropriate and disrespectful.”

But at a press conference following the meeting, Commissioner Rebecca Szetela, who had initially voted for the pay raises, said she would have voted to reverse them.

She noted multiple commissioners had gone back to their regular jobs.

“I think we could stomach to have lower salaries at this point because we’re just not doing as much work, even though we did a tremendous amount of work, and much more than full-time back in August, September, October, November, and December,” Szetela said.

Thursday’s meeting also brought some leadership changes. The group elected former Vice Chair MC Rothhorn as its new chair and Witjes as the new vice chair.

News also came that commission Executive Director Suann Hammersmith would be leaving at the end of her contract. That leaves Communications and Outreach Director Edward Woods III to take on her duties as well.

One thing Hammersmith had been working on was preparing to ask the state Legislature for more money to fund the commission's legal defense of its work.

The commission faces multiple active lawsuits challenging the state’s new legislative district maps. It’s also facing a budget shortfall.

Hammersmith said there’s a letter in the draft stage about to go to the chairs of the legislative appropriations committees.

“They have to abide by the constitution but if they want to negotiate with this commission about other expenses, certainly that could be a conversation,” Hammersmith said.

Negotiations could be important, because some lawmakers have criticized the commission for giving itself pay raises to account for inflation.

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