Sarasota County Approves Controversial Redistricting Map

Todays News

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY WEDNESDAY PHILANTHROPY EDITION WEDNESDAY NOV 20, 2019

Sarasota County Commissioners narrowly approved a controversial map based on a suggestion of a long-time political operative and rejected a redistricting proposal drawn up by a paid consultant.

Meanwhile, angry citizens and leaders continued to criticize the fact commissioners are even choosing to redistrict ahead of the 2020 Census.

“The effort is a waste of time and money,” said Sarasota City Commissioner Shelli Freehand Eddie.

Still, a majority of county commissioners maintained the implementation of single-member district elections made it imperative to balance populations in the five districts before the 2020 elections.

“I know the laws,” said County Commissioner Nancy Detert, who as a state senator was involved in reapportionment of legislative and Congressional districts. “What I am looking for is what is legal—compact, contiguous districts.”

County Commissioner Christian Ziegler has consistently opposed redistricting, but said he would have gone along with one of the maps drawn by consultant Kurt Spitzer based on population estimates from the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. Instead, commissioners approved a map Spitzer created based on an anonymous submission later revealed to be created by Bob Waechter, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota.

Now, Ziegler expects the county to be sued.

“I have been told by numerous people in the community that the Sarasota Democratic Party, the NAACP and the ACLU will come together and put forward a legal case,” he said. 

The map ultimately approved Tuesday moves the Democrat-rich Newtown community in north Sarasota from County Commissioner Mike Moran’s district to Ziegler’s. That means voters in the community won’t vote until 2022. It also means neither Democrat Fredd Atkins, who already filed to challenge Moran, or Republican Frank DiCicco, who challenged Moran in the primary four years ago, live in the newly drawn district.

R.N. Collins, a community activist who has closely scrutinized the numbers, says the data county commissioners worked with was flawed from the start. He found errors in the original BEBR figures, including census blocks with children living in large numbers but no adults, and said even with new data, there were still problems.

But Detert said no numbers will be perfect, and that even the decennial U.S. Census typically only sees a return rate of just over 70 percent. She said she believed the BEBR numbers were more accurate than Census figures, though Spitzer said Tuesday the Census figures are officially presumed to be correct.

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