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Attorney for Michigan's redistricting commission steps down amid tensions on citizen-led board

 The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission had a contentious meeting Thursday.
Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission
The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission had a contentious meeting Thursday.

The attorney advising Michigan’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is stepping down. The change comes as tensions plague the board assigned to draw the state’s political maps.

General Counsel Julianne Pastula gave 30 days’ notice on Wednesday of her pending resignation. Her letter didn’t give a reason, and Pastula didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The commission is fielding two lawsuits over state and federal political districts that commissioners approved in December.

Interpersonal conflicts dominated Thursday's commission meeting when Republican Commissioner Rhonda Lange called for Board Chair Rebecca Szetela, an independent, to be censured.

“I have personally felt bullied," Lange said of Szetela's leadership. "And I'm sorry that people will disagree with that, but it's not only affected me.”

The move to rebuke Szetela failed 8-3 with only Republican Erin Wagner and Democrat Dustin Witjes siding with Lange.

Democratic Commissioner Brittni Kellom tried to stop the motion for censure, calling it "a nightmare."

"I also want to apologize to the public for having to see this wonderful group have the tough conversation that we had," Kellom said following the vote. "Hopefully, we can move forward in teamwork and not slanderous behavior and we can learn to properly vocalize when we have conflict, especially with one of our coworkers."

"Commissioner Szetela expresses gratitude to her fellow commissioners in supporting her as chair," commission spokesman Edward Woods III said in a statement when asked to comment on Szetela's behalf.

Michiganders voted in 2018 to have Republican, Democratic and independent citizens meet in public to draw districts. Previously, the party in power was largely able to control the process behind closed doors.

Media outlets won a lawsuit against the newly created commission last year over a closed-door meeting to discuss legal memos.

Copyright 2022 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Sarah Lehr is a politics and civics reporter for WKAR News.