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District dividers

The Gazette
August 26, 2007

CEDAR RAPIDS - The five people who will be carving Linn County into districts for the election of county supervisors bring diverse backgrounds to the job, but all say they're interested in creating a balanced, fair map.

The five first met last week, electing attorney Steve Jackson Sr. as chairman of the Linn County Temporary Redistricting Commission.

Residents voted July 24 to divide the county into five districts for the election of supervisors. In November, voters agreed to increase the Board of Supervisors from three to five members. The changes go into effect in November 2008. The new way of electing supervisors is the same as that used in Polk County, Iowa's most populous, and Adams County, Iowa's smallest. Linn County's current three supervisors were elected at large, meaning everyone in the county voted on them.

The redistricting panel has until Feb. 15 to create the districts, though members have said they'd like to have the job done by year's end.

The panel, in its first meeting Wednesday, instructed Jackson to ask the state Legislative Services Agency how long the agency would need to create redistricting proposals based on current precinct boundaries, and how much it would cost.

A number of rules govern how the commission divides Linn County's population of 191,701 into five districts. But the primary ones are that each district needs around 38,340 people and that cities of less than 38,340 cannot be divided. That means only Cedar Rapids can be split.

A redistricting commission is appointed by a Board of Supervisors. The majority of its members are of the same political party as the majority of the supervisors. LINN, PAGE 15A

Linn/State agency to be consulted

From 1A

In Linn County's case, three members are Democrats. The two Republicans were appointed by the chairman of the county's Republican Party. All are from Cedar Rapids. (See map.)

The Democrats are attorney Steve Jackson Sr. of 144 Guilford SE (Sutherland Square); former Linn Supervisor Jean Oxley of 190 Cottage Grove Ave. SE; and Rockwell Collins employee and Democratic activist Norm Sterzenbach Sr. of 1724 Hamilton St. SW.

The Republicans are Jeff Elgin of 6940 Bowman Ln. NE, a former state legislator and president of J&T Elgin, a real estate investment company; and Barbara Hames of 2904 Long Bluff NE, president of Hames Communities.

Here is a thumbnail sketch of each commissioner.

Jeff Elgin

Former state Rep. Jeff Elgin, 56, a Republican, supports going straight to the Legislative Services Agency - also referred to as the Legislative Services Bureau - for redistricting maps.

"I still thoroughly believe that the state Legislative Services Bureau can deal with the initial decision of how to break up the districts.

"They do it for legislative districts and do a very good job. They know the code. They've done it for counties before. They have a software program. It keeps politics out. I think that's very important. If you don't have somebody like them, somebody is always trying to second-guess you," Elgin said.

"I guess we can do it ourselves, but we don't have the software to do it," he added.

Elgin, a state representative for six years, and his wife of 34 years, Terri, have three adult children.

Barbara Hames

Barbara Hames, 46, graduated from Marion High School and from Drake University in Des Moines in 1983. She has a master's degree in international management from a program at Thunderbird, a school in Glendale, Ariz.

Hames, who was elected vice chairwoman of the redistricting commission last week, lived in Glendale for 17 years, returning to Cedar Rapids in 2000 with her husband, Dan Bryant, and their two preteen children. Bryant is a marketing associate at CR Transportation.

Hames is president of Hames Communities, which has several manufactured-home parks. She served on the Cedar Rapids Efficiency Task Force, which recommended ways for schools to reduce non-academic expenses in 2004-05.

Hames, a Republican, said she has no political ambitions.

"I like working behind the scenes doing what's best for voters, voicing opinions on public issues," she said. "Being politically involved is very important. There are more ways to be involved than run for public office."

On redistricting, Hames said, "We have a lot of good resources to draw on. Jeff (Elgin) will be good with his legislative service and the knowledge of others on the commission. I'm coming into this with a pretty open mind. We want to do what's in the best interests of Linn County. Gerrymandering districts is in no one's best interest."

Hames has not donated to any supervisor campaign in the period examined by The Gazette (since 2002).

Steve Jackson Sr.

Stephen "Steve" Jackson Sr., 71, is a metro-area native and has been an attorney since 1964.

In 1959, Jackson, a Democrat, was legislative assistant to U.S. Rep. Len Wolf of Iowa. He returned to Cedar Rapids and lost a legislative bid.

Jackson and wife Kay, nursing director for women and children at Mercy Medical Center, have two adult children, two grandsons and two more grandchildren on the way via adoption.

Jackson, an avid Dodgers fan, subscribes to a quote from Jackie Robinson: "The life is not important except in the impact that it has on other lives."

Jackson said he agreed to serve on the redistricting commission because "I just have a general interest in government. Being involved in something like this is helping to pay some civic rent that I have. I just want a good plan that is going to be viable and take into account the various interests of the whole county."

Stephen and Kay Jackson gave $300 to Supervisor Lu Barron in 2004, $100 to Linda Langston in 2002 and $150 to her in 2006.

Jean Oxley

Democrat Jean Oxley, 81, lived on a farm east of Marion for 45 years. For 24 of those years she was a Linn County supervisor.

"I'm sure it was my experience on the board," she says on why she was appointed to the redistricting commission.

Oxley grew up in Center Point and has a sociology degree from the University of Iowa. She was a social worker at the YWCA for 20 years and taught school for seven years.

Oxley believes it's important that redistricting lessen the rural/urban divide in Linn County as well as the east side/west side split in Cedar Rapids.

She notes any plan will go through a public hearing.

"I think we'll look at all options. The Legislative Service Bureau might be one option. I also think we might need a consultant," she said.

At the Wednesday meeting, Oxley said she believed public sentiment was clear to create one district "outside of Cedar Rapids."

Oxley gave $150 to Supervisor Lu Barron's campaign in 2004; $100 to Supervisor James Houser in 2004; and $100 in 2002 and $50 in 2006 to Supervisor Linda Langston.

Norm Sterzenbach Sr. Norm Sterzenbach Sr., 61, has been active in the Democratic Party since about 1974 but has never run for office.

A native of Louisville, Ky., Sterzenbach moved to Cedar Rapids in 1966. He has worked at Rockwell Collins for 41 years but was on union leave for 15 years as a staffer/business agent for his union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. A member of Local 1362, he's an electronics technician working on vibration equipment at Collins.

"I think we ought to have a shot at seeing if we can work something out before we throw up our hands and ship it out," he said of redistricting work. "I think we owe that to the citizens of Linn County. It would cost us a ton on money to go down there (to Des Moines) and meet with the Legislative Services Bureau. ... There's plenty of guidance in the law about the shapes of districts."

Sterzenbach works for Democratic candidates but did not donate money to supervisor campaigns in the period checked by The Gazette.

Caption: COLOR PHOTOS, MAP Gazette map