Commission has legal duty, ethical responsibility to redistrict

On County

BY JACK BRILL SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY JUN 1, 2019

Until last November, all Sarasota County voters were able to vote for each Sarasota County

Commissioner. This gave equal accountability to all voters among the five Commissioners. Since the

passage of the Single Member Districts referendum, only voters in each Commission district can vote for that Commissioner. This makes each Commissioner only accountable to one district and not all Sarasota County voters.

Equal representation is imperative in representative government. The districts must be equal in

population so each Commissioner represents the same number of constituents. This seems obvious

and necessary. At this point, however, the districts are not even close. Until the referendum, it has not mattered as each Commissioner previously was accountable countywide and only had to live in their district.

Because of the pattern of population growth in the county, District 5, which represents the Englewood and Venice area in south Sarasota County, has 75,000 registered voters. In contrast, District 1, which represents north Sarasota County, has only 56,000 voters. That means each voter in District 1 has approximately 25 percent more weight representatively than each voter in District 5.

Further, this redistricting is required under state law. It’s simply mandatory. The County Commission does not have a legal choice. Florida State 124.011 makes this crystal clear:

“Alternate procedure for the election of county commissioners to provide for single-member representation.

(1)   County commissioners shall be nominated and elected to office in accordance with the provisions of s. 124.01, or as otherwise provided by law, unless a proposition calling for single-member representation within the county commission districts is submitted to and approved by a majority of the qualified electors voting on such proposition in the manner provided in this section. Such proposition shall provide that:

(a)   Five county commissioners shall reside one in each of five county commission districts, the districts together covering the entire county and as nearly equal in population as practicable; and each commissioner shall be nominated and elected only by the qualified electors who reside in the same county commission district as the commissioner (ital added)

And finally, all redistricting needs to be done in an odd year, such as this year, because otherwise it is an election year and too late. There is no point in waiting until 2021 when it can be done now. And delaying may violate Florida law.

The driving force behind the Single Member Districts referendum was always the Democratic Party as a ploy to get one or maybe two commission seats since they have not been able to win countywide in generations. Opposition to the redistricting fix, which is mandatory, pulls the mask off the idea that disenfranchising county voters from being able to have a say on who represents them on four out of five seats was anything other than a costly partisan power grab.

The principle of equal representation is of greater importance than partisan politics. That’s why it is

both the legal duty and ethical responsibility of the County Commission to begin redistricting immediately so that each voter in North Port has the same say as each voter in north Sarasota County—unless the opposition wants to argue that they should not.

Jack Brill is Acting Chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota

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