Sarasota Co. Moves Ahead With Redistricting

Todays News

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY WEDNESDAY PHILANTHROPY EDITION WEDNESDAY AUG 28, 2019

A controversial plan to redraw Sarasota County Commission districts will be done ahead of the 2020 U.S. Census. Commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of the move, saying a decision by voters to elect commissioners in single-member districts made the change a necessity.

“It would be very hard to overcome and defend not doing it in a court of law,” said County Commissioner Charles Hines. “What argument can you make for not doing it at this point?”

But members of the public brought plenty such arguments to Tuesday county commission hearings. Supporters of single-member districts said the move amounted to county commissioners choosing their voters rather than the other way around. “Last November, we didn’t vote to change the district boundaries before the 2020 Census,” said activist Pat Rounds. 

Still, commissioners said data produced already by consultant Kurt Spitzer shows too great a disparity in districts as they exist now. Spitzer produced numbers showing a 12-percent population difference between District 5 and District 2, respectively the most and least populous districts.

County Commissioner Christian Ziegler, while critiquing the logic behind single-member districts, cast the lone vote against redistricting now. “I do not support what we’re doing,” he said. But he did push back on public suggestions the process of redrawing lines will not be transparent.

What happens now? State law requires new district lines be set before the end of the calendar year. Spitzer must now produce options and also collect public suggestions about district lines. County administration expects to have a proposal ready in November, enough time to still make tweaks in necessary before the clock runs out.

Spitzer’s analysis, based on data from the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research found Sarasota County has 417,442 residents. Ideally, each district will have 83,448 residents or a close amount. That means District 2 is about 3,898 short while District 5 has 6,336 too many residents.

County Commissioner Nancy Detert, the biggest advocate for redistricting, expects further controversy as proposals come together. “That will continue through the whole process,” she said. “Expect the same kind of criticism. But I will stick with my original assessment that everything needs to be done in a transparent and open way.”

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