SALISBURY TOWNSHIP BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
The Salisbury Township Board of Commissioners narrowly approved a non-binding resolution to support a statewide citizens commission to study legislative and congressional redistricting.
The citizens commission would be an attempt to address gerrymandering.
By a vote of 3-2 at the Aug. 22 meeting, commissioners approved a resolution put forth by Fair Districts PA.
Prior to the vote, commissioners rejected a motion by one of its own to table the resolution.
Residents attending the meeting urged commissioners to back the resolution.
Voting for the resolution were Commissioners Joanne Ackerman, James Seagreaves and commissioners President Robert Martucci Jr., attending his last township commissioner meeting before his resignation, which was effective Aug. 31.
Voting against the resolution were Commissioner Rodney Conn and commissioners Vice President Debra Brinton.
Ackerman made the motion, seconded by Seagreaves, to bring the resolution to a vote.
The 3-2 vote for Fair Districts PA was somewhat unusual in that Salisbury commissioners often vote unanimously 5-0 to approve ordinances, resolutions and motions.
Representatives of Fair Districts PA previously addressed the Salisbury commissioners’ board several times, asking them to back the resolution.
At previous township meetings when the resolution was discussed, Salisbury officials and residents expressed concern Salisbury has divided representation in the Pennsylvania state legislature and may be losing out on funding because the township is represented by three state representatives.
State Rep. Justin Simmons, R-131st, represents, among other Lehigh County, Northampton County and Montgomery County jurisdictions, that of Lehigh County’s Salisbury Township Ward 3 (Division 1).
State Rep. Jeanne McNeil, D-133rd, represents, among other Lehigh County jurisdictions, Salisbury Township Wards 1, 2, 3 (Division 2).
State Rep. Ryan E. Mackenzie, R-134th, represents, among other Lehigh County and Berks County jurisdictions, that of Lehigh County’s Salisbury Township Wards 4 and 5.
Fair Districts PA calls itself “a non-partisan coalition of organizations and individuals working to end gerrymandering in Pennsylvania.”
Terry Schettini, a volunteer for Fair Districts PA, addressed township commissioners at the Aug. 8 Salisbury meeting. Schettini was invited to speak because commissioners wanted more information about Fair Districts PA after other representatives of the organization spoke at previous township meetings.
Fair Districts PA representatives are attending municipal meetings, requesting elected officials vote to endorse a statewide citizens commission to study legislative and congressional redistricting.
Prior to the Aug. 22 Salisbury Township meeting vote on Fair Districts PA, Brinton expressed reservations about the resolution and urged it be tabled.
“Since I’ve been a commissioner, I have not done anything that is political,” Brinton said.
“I’m fine if we make it [Fair Districts PA-backed citizens commission] a referendum in the township.”
Said audience member Gloria Kern of the Fair Districts PA resolution, “Isn’t this an attempt to make it not political?”
Martucci asked Salisbury Township Solicitor Atty. John W. Ashley for clarification on the matter.
“You may be able to put it on the ballot,” Ashley responded.
“It’s totally non-partisan,” audience member Jeff Gilbert of the Fair Districts PA resolution said.
“This is a process to create more democracy across the board,” Gilbert said.
“With gerrymandering, they’ve created totally safe districts,” Gilbert said.
Exclaimed William Derhamer in the audience, “Good grief.”
Brinton made a motion to table the Fair Districts PA resolution, but the motion was not advanced for lack of a second from other commissioners.
“It dies for lack of a second,” Ashley ruled of Brinton’s motion.
Martucci then brought the resolution forward again and Ackerman moved, seconded by Seagreaves, to bring the resolution to a vote.
The statewide citizens commission to study legislative and congressional redistricting would have 11 members, including four members of each political party, representing Republican and Democrat voters and three members representing independent, unaffiliated or third party voters. No public officials, their spouses, or lobbyists would serve on the commission. The Pennsylvania legislature would help determine criteria for persons to be qualified to be on the commission.
Gerrymandering is defined as “the manipulation of an electoral constituency’s boundaries so as to favor one party or class.”
A Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision found that the Pennsylvania 2011 congressional district map violated the state constitution. The court redrew the districts and issued a new map.
Redistricting is expected to happen again after the 2020 Census. The 2021 map is likely to be gerrymandered, regardless of which party is in power, according to Fair Districts PA.
At the end of its most recent 2019 term, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 federal courts lack jurisdiction to decide political gerrymandering cases.
The Salisbury Township Board of Commissioners is next scheduled to meet 7 p.m. Sept. 12 at the municipal building, 2900 S. Pike Ave.