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Porter County councilman to challenge redistricting in court

Updated: December 31, 2013 6:05PM



A lawsuit filed Monday in LaPorte Circuit Court seeks to toss out the fast-track approval of a county redistricting plan approved by the Porter County Board of Commissioners earlier this month, or to delay the primary and general 2014 elections until the matter can be resolved.

The suit, filed by attorney Edward Hearn on behalf of District 2 County Councilman Jeremy Rivas, D-South Haven, and Porter County residents Danielle Cauley, Ryan Bailey, Patrick Heeley II, and Brian Smolnicky, alleges commissioners’ Dec. 17 approval of the new county council districts flies in the face of state redistricting laws by creating two non-contiguous districts.

At that meeting commissioners suspended the rules to pass the ordinance on both first and second reading. The suit alleges proper notification of that meeting was not made.

The redistricting, which is required by state law in the year following the 10-year U.S. Census, moves Rivas from the second to fourth district. Republican Jim Polarek is the District 4 councilman. Rivas, who held a campaign fund-raiser earlier this fall shortly after announcing he would seek a second term for the District 2 seat, said he would not run against Polarek.

Candidates must declare their residency when filing for election. The first day candidates can file for the 2014 primary is Jan. 8.

Commissioners started the process at the end of 2011, the year after the last census, but ran out of time. The matter came up again in mid-October, after a letter from the Association of Indiana Counties warned of a potential lawsuit if the county did not redistrict. State law says district populations must be as close as possible. The redistricting reduced the population variance from 10.4 percent to a little more than 3 percent.

According to the suit, Indiana Code requires officials “shall by ordinance divide the county into four contiguous, single-member districts…” The redistricting plan approved by commissioners creates a second district island of Westchester Township Precinct 17, which is surrounded completely in the new map by District 1.

Plaintiffs are seeking a declaratory judgment because the districts are in non-compliance as well as a permanent injunction barring the enforcement of the ordinance. If the court does not approve the injunction, plaintiffs are seeking a stay of the 2014 primary and general elections.

A hearing on the complaint is set Jan. 7 in Judge Tom Alevizos court at 9 a.m.



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