Sarasota County Moves Ahead With Redistricting

Todays News

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING TUESDAY OCT 8, 2019

Amid questions about the level of accuracy of consultant-presented maps, Sarasota County Commissioners on Monday voted 4-1 to move ahead with plans to redraw districts ahead of the 2020 census.

“I do think that these results are legally defensible,” said consultant Kurt Spitzer in a meeting Monday.

That comes as an official at the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research made clear to press he did not want their figures used for redistricting unless it was necessary. Richard Doty, GIS coordinator for BEBR, confirmed with SRQ DAILY that he recommended against redistricting now.

“When Mr. Spitzer asked us to develop block-level estimates, I told him then that it would be best to wait for after the 2020 Census results are available,” Doty said. “He said that the county could not wait that long. After the work was completed and I learned how this data was being used, I did have a phone conversation with Sarasota County staff to explain how the work was done and potential concerns about block-level data.”

But Spitzer stressed to commissioners on Monday even U.S. Census figures can fall apart on the street-by-street level. He noted work done in Franklin County after the 2000 Census inaccurately put a prison from a neighboring county in the small community. 

“Our methodology is sound,” Spitzer said. “At high levels, as with cities, districts and county-wide, we are very comfortable with the accuracy."

But Commissioner Christian Ziegler, the lone vote against moving forward with redistricting, questioned how accurate divides in districts can be drawn if consultants aren’t comfortable with population counts at the Census block level. “How do you redistrict if you are not confident at that level?” Ziegler said.

Commissioner Nancy Detert, who is up for reelection in 2020, remained the most vocal defender of redistricting and pushed back at press accounts. “I am not happy with the PR,” she told Spitzer. She called complaints about the process “white noise,” and said commissioners haven’t had as much say in crafting district lines as she would have liked.

Commission Chairman Charles Hines, who cannot seek reelection next year thanks to term limits, said he feels an urgency to redraw the lines because 2020 will mark the first election in decades where voters choose commissioners in single-member districts. 

“My goal in this individually has always been to get these districts as balanced as possible,” he said. “People in the public say just ignore it and just wait. I totally disagree. This election with the commissioners, when control of the commission is up for election, it’s imperative to get it as close as possible.”

Commissioners will hold a special meeting the week of Oct. 20 for scrutinizing potential alternative maps for consideration. Spitzer has provided three alternatives and a fourth map based on public input will be considered at the late October meeting. A hearing for final approval on a map is anticipated Nov. 5.

Rendering courtesy KSA: Redistricting Alternative 1 from consultant Kurt Spitzer.

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