Redistricting commissioner responds to allegations of impropriety  ⋆

While the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) put forward new maps for seven state House districts, one of its commissioners on Thursday formally responded to accusations that he improperly assisted a pair of acquaintances, including a current state legislator.

MICRC Commissioner Anthony Eid | Courtesy photo

Commissioner Anthony Eid was accused in December by fellow commissioners Rebecca Szetela and Rhonda Lange of “neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office, or inability to discharge the duties of his office.” 

Lange, a Republican, and Szetela, an independent, claimed Eid, also an independent, had favored the candidacies of Democrats Bilal Hammoud of Dearborn Heights and now-state Rep. Noah Arbit of West Bloomfield when he helped guide the drawing of new maps for the 15th and 20th House districts. 

“Facts matter. But regurgitation of social media posts, speculation unsupported by actual evidence, and attempted guilt by association that together result in little more than a glorified Internet conspiracy theory do not,” stated a letter signed by attorney Steven Liedel, an elections expert with the Lansing-based Dykema Gosset law firm.

Among the allegations made by Szetela was that after Arbit submitted a map in July 2021 for how he wished to see the 20th District redrawn, Eid began advocating for a map that similarly kept West Bloomfield Township and Orchard Lake together “perfectly duplicating Mr. Arbit’s proposed House map,” she said. 

To back up that claim she noted that Eid had posted on social media in January 2022 that he “had a hand in drawing” the map for the 20th House District, which he said was one of his five favorites. Szetela also alleged that Eid attended a fundraiser for Arbit in April 2022, though Eid said it was a town hall and countered that he also attended a town hall for the Republican candidate from the area.

Arbit told the Detroit News that the allegations were “lazy, circumstantial and offensive,” noting he was one of many voices asking the MICRC not to divide West Bloomfield as past maps had done.  

Szetela also alleged Eid made “radical changes” to the commission’s maps for the 15th House District after an acquaintance from college, Bilal Hammoud, submitted a draft district map that she said was similar. 

Arbit went on to win the seat for the 20th District, while Hammoud lost to fellow Democrat Erin Byrnes in the primary for the 15th District, which includes the west end of Dearborn and Dearborn Heights. Byrnes won the general election in November 2022.

When Lange and Szetela filed the 14-page notice with the Department of State seeking to declare Eid’s seat vacant, it initiated a formal process that ultimately will result in a vote by the commission, requiring 10 of the 13 members to vote for removal. According to MICRC Executive Director Ed Woods III, the commission will decide on Feb. 8 whether it will proceed with a hearing on Feb. 13.

The allegations come at a vulnerable moment for the MICRC, which was ordered by a panel of three federal judges to redraw seven state House districts  due to violations of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) when it diluted Black voting power in Detroit with new voting maps drawn in 2021. The 15th and the 20th House districts are not among them. 

The court gave the MICRC until Friday to submit new proposed draft maps for the seven districts, which the commission completed a day early. However, a series of public hearings have now been set for the new maps which must be accepted by the court in time for an April 23 filing deadline for candidates seeking to run in those districts this year.

With that in mind, the letter from Liedel urged the commissioners to dispense with the accusations against Eid as soon as possible and focus on the business at hand.

“The Notice is an unnecessary distraction from the important work entrusted to the Commission by the People of the State of Michigan as the Commission devotes extensive time and effort to ensure that the district plans for the Michigan Legislature fully comply with the state and federal constitutions and the Voting Rights Act,” said Liedel. “We respectfully urge the Commission to reject the Notice and decline to conduct any hearing relating to the Notice.”

Liedel also notes that the maps which were adopted for the districts in question were done by a full, public vote of the 13-member panel.

“Commissioner Eid has no authority to draw or adopt maps for the Commission on his own. He cannot violate a duty relating to the drawing of maps because he has no authority to draw maps on his own,” stated the letter.

This is not the first confrontation between Szetela and Eid. In June 2023, Szetela requested an ethics ruling by the commission over Eid’s employment as deputy director of Michigan Voices, a nonprofit that had lobbied the commission during its initial mapping process. However, the matter was removed from discussion at a commission meeting the following month after Eid had stepped down from the position, prompting Szetela to accuse then-Commission Chair Doug Clark, a Republican, of a “cover up.”

Clark later resigned after moving to California ro be near family while he received medical treatment for what was described as a “very serious health issue.” Woods told the that Clark had recently passed away, although he provided no details.

Michigan redistricting commission meets court deadline for new metro Detroit state House maps

The notice filed by Szetela and Lange notes that incident as well as Eid’s brief role in 2022 with Asia & Pacific Island American Vote, which had also provided public comments on the initial mapping process and had even filed litigation against the commission. Eid said he left that role after just two weeks because he “didn’t think the fit was right.”

Sxetela also has been accused of inappropriate actions. Former Commissioner Douglas Witjes also filed a request to vacate Szetela’s position with the MICRC, alleging she had “actively collaborated with opposing counsel, undermining the collective will of the commission. He based the charge on testimony Szetela provided in the Agee v. Benson lawsuit that led to the federal court order to redraw 13 state House and Senate maps.  Witjes made the request shortly before resigning his seat after registering to vote in Illinois, where he had moved for a new job. 

Regardless, the letter from Liedel concluded by advising the MICRC against setting a low standard for removing a commissioner.

“The Commission has the opportunity to establish precedent here. Set the right one. Efforts to remove a member of the Commission should be rare, firmly grounded in the law, and not rooted in petty disputes. So we urge the Commission to dispose of this removal request expeditiously and return to your pressing business,” said the letter.

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authored by Jon King
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2024%2F02%2F02%2Fredistricting-commissioner-responds-to-allegations-of-impropriety%2F

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