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St. Lawrence County legislators approve redistricting plan

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CANTON — The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators approved a redistricting plan Monday that splits Canton into three legislative districts — and leaves some officials in Hammond and Morristown disgruntled.

However, supporters of the plan said it does not disrupt most of the county’s legislative districts and has a population disparity of about 12 percent, less than the 16 percent court-approved maximum.

“We’ve done exactly what we said we were going to do,” said Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler, whose district represents Hammond. “We’ve delivered a plan with very few changes. Most people are satisfied.”

Voting against the plan were Republicans Mark H. Akins, Lisbon; Joseph R. Lightfoot, Ogdensburg; Scott M. Sutherland, Pierrepont, and Daniel F. Parker, Potsdam. Legislators Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, and Gregory M. Paquin, D-Massena, were absent.

At a public hearing prior to the board’s vote, Morristown Mayor Cheryl A. Shatraw said it would have made more sense to adopt an alternative plan grouping Oswegatchie, Morristown and Hammond as St. Lawrence River communities and splitting Canton into two districts currently represented by Mr. Acres in District 8 and Stephen M. Putman, a Democrat, in District 9.

Several Hammond officials agreed the three river communities should be represented by a single legislator.

“The representative for these areas would understand this bond,” said Hammond Councilman Howard W. Demick.

If that is the case, a Hammond-Morristown Central School should be proposed soon, said Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, one of the architects of the approved plan.

Macomb resident David B. Duff told legislators their process was flawed in that the public had only a few days to study the three proposals before a decision was made.

“There is a feeling among the towns affected that the deal is in. It leaves an awful lot of room for people to speculate,” Mr. Duff said. “It does not come across as transparent. It comes across as deal-making.”

An effort by Mr. Lightfoot to have the decision made in a public referendum failed when county attorney Michael C. Crowe said a plan has to be approved before it can face a referendum.

“I personally feel we’re missing an opportunity. I would like to see these election districts set up in a better way,” Mr. Lightfoot said. “This is not a Joe Lightfoot thing where I don’t want to represent the town of Canton. This is not a good plan. It splits things up.”

While some in Canton did not care for being divided three ways, Mr. Putman said it could be an advantage if the town’s three representatives agree on an issue of importance to the community.

Some legislators wanted a plan approved quickly so the county Board of Elections could tell party committee members, who will start circulating petitions in June, where district lines are.

“I think this was a tough piece of puzzle to put together,” Legislator Anthony J. Arquiett, D-Helena, said. “I do think we need to move forward.”

The plan preferred by Mr. Lightfoot had a population deviation of nearly 16 percent, which stopped some legislators from looking at it further.

“It flirts with the extreme,” said Legislator Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington.

While some legislators denied politics had anything to do with how district lines were drawn, Mr. Akins said no one would vote for the favored plan if it were not developed by Mr. Morrill and Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg.

“The whole point of this is to make accurate representations. This is the craziest political thing I’ve ever come across,” he said. “It’s the people’s plan and you’ve got two or three people railroading this through. I’m ashamed to be a part of it.”

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