'Flip-flop' alleged in Washington County redistricting as Woodbury gets three commissioners; Lehrke won't face re-election this fall
Washington County Commissioners reversed course on redistricting last week, approving a plan that splits Woodbury among three districts after agreeing in principle to a plan the week before that would have kept the county's largest city divided between just two commissioners.
The redrawn commissioner district map, OK'd by a split 4-1 vote following a lengthy County Board debate, sets up a possible fall matchup between two current board members by placing District 2 Commissioner Bill Pulkrabek in the same new-look District 5 as incumbent Lisa Weik.
District 4 Commissioner Autumn Lehrke, of Cottage Grove, will now also represent a portion of Woodbury, picking up a precinct in the rural southwest corner of the city. She won't have to run for re-election in the fall under the new boundaries because her new district population didn't change enough to force the seat onto November's ballot.
Pulkrabek -- formerly of Oakdale, now a Woodbury resident -- said in an interview after the vote in which he was the lone dissenter that he had not decided whether to run in District 2 or 5.
But, he said: "I'm seriously considering running against Commissioner Weik in District 5."
The filing period for county commissioner candidates closes June 5.
Redistricting is required to re-balance commissioner district populations following the 2010 census.
The board approved a redistricting option that didn't even exist when its five members last met to sort out which new map best met a list of their own guiding principles. Commissioners tossed aside an option favored after a workshop earlier this month that would have kept the Woodbury districts largely the same, carving roughly three-fourths of the city into Weik's District 5, the remaining into District 2.
Instead, four commissioners last week backed a plan that swaps thousands of voters in the city from District 2 to 5 following a Woodbury City Council workshop where council members said they preferred three representatives on the board to account for projected growth in the next decade.
Weik's position shifted most noticeably. Early last week she declared her opposition to adding a third commissioner to Woodbury and said she felt swapping northeast and northwest Woodbury precincts between commissioner districts could confuse voters. Then, at the board's April 17 meeting, Weik called anxieties over the possibility of three of five commissioners representing at least a portion of Woodbury "a phantom concern."
"We need to be nimble and react to new information," she said of negative input from local officials in Woodbury, Afton and Scandia toward the plan backed earlier by the Board.
Weik's comments came after Pulkrabek asked the commissioner to address what he called her "total flip-flop."
'Politics at its worst'
Pulkrabek, the second-longest serving commissioner on the board, would face a two-year term if he ran and won re-election in his current District 2. Under the guiding principles established by the board last month, Weik's District 5 would have received the shorter term, needed so each of the five members are not seeking re-election simultaneously.
But, Weik, citing "voter fatigue," said that because she ran to fill the remainder of a term in 2008 and then won re-election in 2010 her seat should not be up for grabs again until 2016.
The board voted 3-2, with Pulkrabek and Lehrke voting against, to assign the two-year term to District 2.
Pulkrabek fumed following the meeting.
"This was politics at its worst," he said, accusing fellow commissioners of orchestrating a "backroom deal."
Commissioners Gary Kriesel, of District 3, and Weik disagreed, saying the process had been open and transparent. The only cities to comment on the redistricting plans before the board had only negative input, Kriesel said.
"We're throwing common sense out the window" if the board doesn't consider future population growth in redrawing the maps, Kriesel said.
Weik asserted it was Pulkrabek, not herself, who had introduced politics into the process. The political ramifications of the new lines played no part in her deliberations.
"There's been a lot of new information," she said. "I just want to make the best possible decision. I am not looking at the politics of this."