Grosse Pointe Woods to Try Legal Challenge to Split Districts

Grosse Pointe Woods council voted to spend up to $4,000 to hire a legal firm to investigate and possibly fight the recently approved redistricting.

A redrawn state House district that has split the five Pointes into two separate districts has officials so concerned they've committed $4,000 to hire a law firm to research a legal challenge.

City Attorney Don Berschback said Friday that the city wants to choose a large firm with experience in such issues to determine:

  • the legal basis for challenging the redistricting
  • to estimate the potential cost of a lawsuit
  • to share an opinion about the chances of winning

The late last month began --a path the Park took 20 years ago when it won a challenge in Michigan Supreme Court and overturned a redrawn map that split the Park from the rest of the Pointes.

Under the latest redistricting, which a process done every 10 years following the results of the U.S. Census to ensure appropriate representation in the event of population shifts, divides the current single Michigan House of Representatives district into two. 

The current District 1 represents all five Grosse Pointes, Harper Woods and a small portion of Detroit. The --one district with Grosse Pointe Woods, Grosse Pointe Shores, Harper Woods and a significant portion of Detroit, and a second district with Grosse Pointe Farms, the City of Grosse Pointe, Grosse Pointe Park and another portion of Detroit. They new districts are to take effect Jan. 1, 2013.

Berschback said Woods city administrator Al Fincham is contacting the Park about its plans and progress and experience. Park City Attorney Dennis Levasseur was involved in the lawsuit from two decades ago. 

After coming from Lansing, the redistricting seems to be the next most major cause for concern across the Pointes.

"The council wanted to show that the city is willing to put its money where its mouth is," said Berschback. 

He said the law firm that's selected will likely be announced at the Woods council meeting on Sept. 19. 

The decision to put money behind a legal challenge was made at Monday's council meeting after Mayor Robert Novitke said there is "no choice" but to pursue legal avenues as a way to protect the Pointes from losing its collective voice in Lansing.

Novitke, other Woods council members and Park officials say in the state House and is unwise because the five communities with so many commonalities need to have a unified voice in Lansing. Each of the five Pointes passed before the governor signed them into law. Rep. Tim Bledsoe also submitted .

"I really don't think we have a choice," Novitke said. "I don't know if it's viable. I don't know if we could suitably contest it…and I don't think we want to go alone on this."

The assumption by the Woods and the Park is that all five Pointes would want to be parties to a lawsuit and would share in the cost. Each community's share the would be based on its population, Berschback said.

Woods Councilman Todd McConaghy said he'd like the law firm that is hired to look at injunctive relief to stop the redistricting from taking effect while it is being legally challenged--a process that would likely be drawn out.

Woods Councilman Arthur Bryant said, "…The real problem is you don't have a rep who's looking just at the Grosse Pointes…It doesn't matter whether that rep is a Republican or Democrat. We just want to have a rep that is looking out for our own unique needs."

Park Mayor Palmer Heenan is so upset by the change that he has . He said he'd gladly give up his seat if it meant keeping the Pointes together. 

Consolidation and secession talk is also circulating among Woods officials. Shores officials are looking into this possibilty and Shores Mayor James Cooper during a meeting they have scheduled in October.

Woods Councilman Joseph Sucher said the redistricting and a legal challenge should be studied, but "I don't know how concerned I am…It doesn't sound good, the whole issue of splitting the Pointes, but I don't know what the implications are."

He favored looking at larger but related issues such as consolidation of the Pointes and secession from Wayne County."We shouldn't box ourselves into a corner. We should look at all these issues at the same time."

Councilman Kevin Ketels reiterated the importance of the Pointes banding together.

"I'm very concerned it diminishes the influence we have in Lansing. We should reach out to other Pointes. It might impact the effectiveness if others join us."

In addition to the state House redistricting, the that runs from Southwest Detroit, along the Detroit River, into the Pointes and Harper Woods, up 8 Mile into Oakland County and through Farmington, Farmington Hills and finally Pontiac.

While the Congressional seat is not at the center of the legal challenges being considered by the Pointes, officials are concerned that it's further reason to fight the House redistricting.


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