County has until Christmas to expand board
Lincoln County officials know they have a busy Christmas shopping season ahead now that voters have told them to boost their County Board’s membership from three to five.
Beyond that, County Clerk Becky Rossell said Wednesday, she and her fellow officials — including the County Board’s current membership — have to figure out the timing of their to-do list after today’s official election canvass verifies the success of a ballot question to add two more commissioners.
State laws last updated in 2016 give them 45 days after Tuesday’s election results become official — “unless good cause is shown that the requirement imposes an undue burden” — to redraw the county’s commissioner districts and appoint and seat two additional County Board members.
That would set their deadline to expand the board on or just before Christmas Eve, about two weeks before District 2 Commissioner-elect Kent Weems and re-elected District 3 Commissioner Bill Henry take their oaths with the other county officials elected Tuesday.
But it’s less clear when new district maps must be finished and when applications can be taken, Rossell said. She plans to consult with Deputy County Attorney Joe Wright, who regularly works on County Board matters, to determine the exact schedule.
The Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office has little oversight over the process, said Wayne Bena, the office’s deputy secretary of state for elections. It’s premature to discuss the matter in any case, he said, “because we haven’t gotten information on it yet.”
Unofficial returns showed a healthy 55.6 percent majority for a five-member County Board, with 6,724 “yes” votes and 5,368 “no.” County resident Duane McClain led a successful petition drive last summer to put the question on the ballot for the first time since 2006, when voters rejected it.
Beyond the 45-day time frame to expand the board, state law declares:
» The current three-member County Board — consisting of Henry, retiring Commissioner Duane Deterding and longtime Commissioner Joe Hewgley — is responsible for redrawing the current three districts into five. Rossell, who doubles as county election commissioner, said “I’d be happy to assist them” if they ask.
» A committee of Rossell, County Attorney Rebecca Harling and retiring County Treasurer Sue Fleck must appoint the two new commissioners after receiving and reviewing applications from interested residents of the yet-to-be-created Districts 4 and 5. Treasurer-elect Lorie Koertner won’t take office until January.
» The newly appointed commissioners would serve until January 2021, with voters of the two new districts nominating and electing their commissioners for the first time in 2020.
Hewgley, Weems and Henry would continue to represent Districts 1, 2 and 3 respectively until their four-year terms expire, even if one or more of them should wind up in one of the new districts.
» Commissioners elected from the new districts in 2020 would serve either two-year or four-year terms. The county would have to arrange future elections so two County Board members are elected together and the other three two years before or after them.