League of Women Voters | Rochester Metropolitan Area, Rochester, NY

Testimony of LWV-RMA in County Legislature Redistricting Hearings

The Monroe County Redistricting Commission held public hearings on Oct. 13, 14, and 15. Barbara Grosh, president of LWV-RMA delivered testimony as follows.

Oct. 13 Testimony from Barbara Grosh

My name is Barbara Grosh. I live in Penfield.  I am the president of the League of Women Voters of the Rochester Metropolitan Area.  The League is a nonpartisan organization.  We neither endorse parties and candidates nor oppose them.  Our primary purpose is to help citizens be knowledgeable and informed voters.

Tonight, I’d like to address the processes the Redistricting Commission is following.  We believe that the process under way in Monroe County is making it hard for citizens to have effective input.  I have seven points where the League sees problems with the process.

  1. What’s the hurry? The county charter allows 6 months from the time of appointment of the redistricting commission to the time of completion of their work.  Use of the full six months would allow a fully transparent and participatory process with informed input from the public.  New districts don’t need to be in place until early 2023.  There is no hurry.

  2. Poorly publicized hearings aren’t good enough. The dates and places for the hearings are not to be found on the county website. The locations of two of the three hearings are remote.  I had to email repeatedly to the Clerk of the Legislature to find out the locations.  I had to make repeated phone calls to get on the speaking schedule.  Public hearings need to be publicized.

  3. Hold more meetings.  Over these next three nights, you will hear from a few determined citizens.  They will point out problems with current districts and ask for changes.  Some of their points will be easy to address, some will have little merit, and some will be difficult because of the multiple and sometimes conflicting requirements for districts.  You will only be able to make use of public input if you have a meeting in which to discuss it.  The County Charter requires that the Commission have both Democrats and Republicans, and you should conduct your business at meetings of the whole commission.  These meetings should be announced in advance so that members of the public can attend.

  4. Take seriously the concept of communities of interest.  Here I have a map showing the neighborhoods in Rochester, I was given by a former county official.  Most of these neighborhoods have organizations to help citizens build their communities, including by working with city and county government.  When these communities of interest get divided up into multiple districts, it makes it hard for them to develop relationships with their representatives.  I urge you to minimize splitting up these neighborhoods as you draw the district lines.

  5. When you release the draft maps, make them truly accessible.  Software is readily available to put the district maps online so that voters can scrutinize them, looking themselves up to see what district they fall in, see where the map cut through their neighborhood and scrutinize the degree to which the districts may be gerrymandered for partisan political purposes or to stifle the political effectiveness of some citizens, especially along racial or ethnic lines.  I hope and urge that you release the maps in such a form and make the link available on the county website and allow at least a 3-4 week period for the public to scrutinize, discuss and understand them.

  6. Publicize the next hearings. You are required by law to hold a public hearing after the proposed map has been released.  Publicize the hearing widely.  Hearings are only public if the public is informed about them.

  7. Allow time for revision. You are required to hold hearings to get public feedback, and you should consider that feedback. If you do not undertake any revisions in response to public hearings, you are flouting the intentions of the County Charter.

Oct. 15 Testimony from Barbara Grosh

My name is Barbara Grosh.  I currently live in Penfield, though I haven’t yet had the opportunity to vote in a county Leg election there yet.  Tonight, I’d like to start by talking about my former legislative district, District 18.

My former legislator from District 18, Tanya Conley, once told me that the 18th district had the widest socio-economic spread of any district in Monroe County. That surprised me because it felt like a wealthy district to me.  She said that the neighborhoods she represented in East Rochester had median family incomes that were about equal to the annual property tax bill in the higher income neighborhoods in the district, where she lived.

Since learning that startling fact, I’ve taken a closer look at the poverty in the eastern suburbs, to see if it’s necessary to stick together such an odd district, where needs are very different.  It’s not necessary at all.  First, look at the village of East Rochester and you find that it’s split into two.  A village which would constitute a natural community of interest is divided, each half stuck on as an afterthought to a wealthy district, the 18th, which is mostly wealthy parts of Perinton and the 10th, which covers some very swanky parts of Pittsford.

But wait, there’s more.  There are more low-income neighborhoods tucked away nearby.  About a mile away as the crow flies is the Pines of Perinton, which is in District 11.  Also nearby are a couple of trailer parks on the north side of Route 441, which are contained within District 15, my current district which runs from the East Rochester-Penfield border right on up to the shores of Lake Ontario in Webster.

So, in case you’ve lost track, we’ve got three low-income neighborhoods within a short distance of each other, divided into four electoral districts which are mainly high income. 

Those low-income neighborhoods have a lot in common.  They need county services to work well, all of them.  They need good bus service, because many folks don’t have cars.  They need childcare subsidies to be fully funded, which they never have been in Monroe County.  They need MCC to be affordable and high quality. They need for the public defender’s office to be well-funded.  All of these services are probably things that their wealthy neighbors probably seldom think about. 

This natural community of interest has been cracked, divided up into several districts, some of which have the kind of weird elongated jagged shapes you think of when you hear the word gerrymander. This did not happen naturally by some geographic fluke. 

Cracking this community of interest dilutes its voting power and disenfranchises the residents. This is not helping Monroe County residents to thrive.  I urge you to take the time to examine Monroe County neighborhood by neighborhood and consult with residents. It will be a bit time-consuming, but we have the time.  We don’t need to finalize district lines for over a year.  There is plenty of time for a thorough audit of underserved communities, which would make democracy so much better.

P.O. Box 10573 · Rochester, NY · 14610
585.262.3730 · info@LWV-RMA.org