Investigation under way into Polk County maps

Hawk Eye, The (Burlington, IA) - Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Author: Critics say districts drawn illegally to favor incumbent Democrats.
DES MOINES -- The executive director of the state's Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board will take more depositions this week in the panel's investigation into the redrawing of election maps in Polk County. 

Megan Tooker, the executive director and legal counsel for the board, said she will take depositions Thursday from four officials involved in the process of redrawing the maps. 

The board is investigating a complaint filed by Matt Whitaker that the new maps were drawn illegally to favor incumbent Democrats. The maps put Republican supervisors Robert Brownell and E.J. Giovanetti into the same district. The plan was approved by the Democratically controlled Board of Supervisors and redistricting commission. 

The officials who will be questioned are Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald; Michael Gartner, who served as chairman of the commission when the maps were drawn; Ken Agey, the geographic information systems manager in the auditor's office; and John Chiodo, the county's election commissioner. 

It will be the second round of questioning for Agey, Gartner and Fitzgerald. It will be the first for Chiodo. 

Tooker declined to say why Agey, Gartner and Fitzgerald will be questioned again. She also did not say why Chiodo will be deposed. 

"I do not think it is appropriate for me to comment while the complaint and the investigation are pending," she said. 

Tooker said she believes the depositions will become public once final action is taken. 

Counties are required to draw election maps after every census to ensure that supervisors represent roughly equal numbers of residents. The districts must be compact and reasonably shaped. Counties are not expected to consider the fates of political parties, the incumbents nor race in the process. 

The plan has been submitted for approval by the secretary of state. 

Assistant Polk County Attorney Michael O'Meara filed a 16-page response to Whitaker's complaint saying it lacks factual and legal merit. 

If ethics board members determine the map was drawn illegally, it can be rejected or sent back to the county. A redistricting plan must be submitted to the secretary of state by Oct. 15 to avoid the state becoming involved in the process.