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Redistricting commission does not reveal memos; Senate votes to ban commission from meeting privately

Inside the Michigan Senate
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Inside the Michigan Senate

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission voted against releasing private memos at its meeting Thursday.

A recent opinion from the state Attorney General says the commission likely shouldn’t have discussed the memos on historical discrimination and the Voting Rights Act behind closed doors during an October 27th meeting.

Still, the commission’s lawyers vehemently warned it against releasing the information ahead of its vote to keep the memos private.

“It’s like inviting the other team into your huddle,” attorney David Fink said.

Commission chair Rebecca Szetela said she doesn’t buy the legal team’s argument that releasing the memos gives away all attorney-client privilege with their Voting Rights Act lawyers and other attorneys.

“We have litigation attorneys, and we have VRA attorneys, and then we have general counsel. And I feel that each one of those is unique. And that the VRA counsel I think is a little different because he has been assisting us in drawing maps,” Szetela said.

A motion to release the memos failed by a vote of 5-7. A motion to release a recording of the Oct. 27th meeting failed 4-to-8.

Commissioner Brittni Kellom says releasing the memos wasn’t worth the risk of threatening their lawyers’ ability to do their jobs.

“It’s not that I think that I stand on this strong podium of ‘Oh yeah, we talked about something that definitely needed to be in closed session.’ I’m on the fence about that. It’s what a decision like this represents in the future,” Kellom said.

Meanwhile, the state Senate Thursday passed a bill preventing the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission from meeting behind closed doors.

The commission faced intense criticism for doing so briefly at an October meeting while it heard advice from its legal counsel.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) says the commission’s worst day is still better than the best day under the old system to draw district lines.

“I was there ten years ago when these things happened behind closed doors. People I know met in secrecy and tried to buy off politicians with the promise of a better district. So, any questions that need to be addressed with this commission in its first-year pale in comparison,” Ananich said.