Commissioner Ziegler only board member to support map submitted by Sarasota attorney Goodrich
No sooner had County Commission Chair Alan Maio closed the Nov. 15 public hearing for the latest redistricting initiative than Commissioner Christian Ziegler made a motion to approve the map that had sparked the greatest amount of controversy since the board members discussed it on Oct. 19.
Dubbed “Goodrich 2,” community activists contended that it would prevent about 57,000 people from voting for a commissioner in 2022. Primarily, residents of the traditionally African-American community of Newtown, who were moved out of District 1 when the board adopted a new map in 2019, would be shifted back into District 1, according to that map. Those residents were unable to vote during the District 1 election in 2020 because of the implementation of the Single-Member Districts county Charter amendment that voters approved in November 2018.
That voting system allows a voter to cast ballots just for County Commission candidates who live in the same district as the voter. Previously, all commissioners were elected countywide.
During the 2019 redistricting initiative, numerous members of the public pointed out that moving those Newtown voters out of District 1 was action designed to facilitate the re-election of Republican incumbent Commissioner Michael Moran. Newtown residents noted that the majority of voters in their community tend to support Democratic candidates.
Ziegler, also a Republican, represents District 2.
During the Nov. 15 public hearing, speakers urged the board members not to approve the Goodrich 2 map but, instead, to put in place the new district lines proposed in a map that their redistricting consulting firm had designed.
One of the speakers, Pat Rounds, a founder of the nonpartisan group Citizens for District Power, asked the commissioners why they even allowed the two maps submitted by Sarasota attorney Brian Goodrich to be considered during the hearing. “The original Spitzer map did a pretty good job of maintaining continuity with the existing map,” Rounds pointed out, referring to the board’s redistricting consultant, Kurt Spitzer of Spitzer & Associates in Tallahassee.
Sarasota resident Adrien Lucas added, “They’re all really shoddy maps, but [the Spitzer map is] the best one to represent Sarasota County.”
The only Newtown resident to address the board that afternoon was Angie M. Dawson, who pointed out that she was born and reared in that community.
Dawson talked about the fact that most Newtown residents were unable to vote in 2020 and that they were facing the prospect of not being able to vote in 2022, either. “How do you think [that makes] people feel?” she asked the commissioners. “It makes people feel like nothing, like they don’t matter, and we all matter; we do. … You get tired of being let down and put down, like you’re not even human.”
As it turned out, no one seconded Ziegler’s motion in favor of the Goodrich 2 map.
Then, after Chair Maio asked for another motion, Commissioner Nancy Detert proposed one, suggesting that the board members approve the map created by Kurt Spitzer & Associates, the Tallahassee consulting firm that the board also hired in 2019.
Commissioner Moran seconded Detert’s motion, and it ended up passing 4-1.
The following day, the commissioners voted 4-1 — with Ziegler again in the minority — to approve the minutes of the redistricting hearing. That was a formal step required by state law in the process to implement new district maps.
Next, during their regular meeting on Dec. 7, the commissioners formally must acknowledge the proof of publication of the certified minutes and the adopted map from their Nov. 15 hearing, according to the Florida Statutes.
Finally, on Dec. 8, the board must approve the minutes of the Dec. 7 meeting.
Explaining his action
During the board discussion after speakers’ comments, Ziegler explained that he opposed the 2019 redistricting initiative, saying that the commissioners should await the results of the 2020 Census before putting a new map into place. (He and then-Commissioner Charles Hines ended up in the minority on the 3-2 vote that resulted in implementation of the new district lines in 2019.)
The map that Spitzer & Associates provided the board members this year, Ziegler pointed out, essentially keeps in place the 2019 district boundaries, with adjustments for the 14.4% increase in county population since the 2010 Census was completed. (On Oct. 19, Commissioner Moran did ask that consultant Kurt Spitzer modify District 1 to make Clark Road the southern boundary.)
“It’s ironic,” Ziegler said, that speakers who opposed the map in 2019 favored it this time.
“Pretty much every speaker was against [that map] two years ago,” Ziegler continued on Nov. 16, “but now it fits the agenda and the goal,” which, he added, is to elect a Democrat to the District 2 seat.
“The only thing that’s changed is politics,” Ziegler said.
Not only is Ziegler a Republican, but he also is vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida.
Moreover, Ziegler pushed back against public allegations that Robert Waechter of Siesta Key was behind the Goodrich 2 map.
The only two public maps that the commissioners approved for consideration during the public hearing were submitted to county staff by Sarasota attorney Brian Goodrich, a partner in the firm of Bentley Goodrich Kison. Speakers pointed out that Goodrich’s partner in the firm, Morgan Bentley, is Waechter’s attorney.
In 2019, Waechter submitted the map that served as the basis for the one that the commissioners approved. A former chair of the Republican Party of Sarasota County, Waechter turned in the map under the name “Adam Smith” but later acknowledged that he had created it.
Goodrich asserted to The Sarasota News Leader in late October that Waechter had nothing to do with creating the maps that Goodrich submitted to the county.
On Nov. 15, Ziegler stressed, “I don’t even know who Goodrich is.” Ziegler added that his only interaction with Morgan Bentley was during Sarasota Tiger Bay Club meetings, when Bentley served as moderator of the panel discussions.
Ziegler also pointed to news media accounts reporting that Bentley and Goodrich said they had drawn the two maps in an effort to try to ensure “a Democratic victory” in District 2 in 2022.
“I am a very outspoken Republican,” Ziegler continued. “I’m OK with people disagreeing with me,” Ziegler added. “What I don’t like is when people are disingenuous in the process.”
He also noted that he has heard that Democratic candidates already are being recruited for the District 2 race next year.
Finally, Ziegler said he did not like any of the three maps under consideration this year.
The timing of the hearing
During the hearing, speakers noted that the special meeting was advertised for 1:30 p.m. that day. However, when the commissioners came back to the dais after their lunch break, they continued with the business scheduled on the afternoon agenda of their regular meeting. At 4 p.m., with those items concluded, they began the redistricting hearing.
One of those speakers, Kindra Muntz of Venice, president of the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections (SAFE), told the commissioners that she originally had not planned to address them that afternoon. Yet, “after sitting here for two-and-a-half hours for the 1:30 meeting that was published, realizing how many people had to suffer with this wait,” including one person who had talked about having to take off time from work, she said she was “motivated to speak.”
“I think the commissioners may not want to hear from the public,” Muntz continued.
A second speaker, Johannes Werner of North Sarasota, talked about the fact that he is the owner of a small business. He added that his clients and partners would have preferred him to be working instead of spending three hours in the Commission Chambers that afternoon. His decision to participate in the hearing, he said, “was not made easier by the scheduling that was announced before this meeting.”
He was referencing Chair Maio’s statement that the board would proceed with the items scheduled for the afternoon on the Nov. 15 regular meeting agenda.
In response to a News Leader question about the delay of the start of the redistricting hearing, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant acknowledged in a Nov. 16 telephone interview that the regular meeting agenda for Nov. 15 noted that the commissioners could choose to continue unfinished business to the regular meeting on Nov. 16.
However, she added, the public meeting regulations also make it clear that when any session has been advertised for a specific time, that session cannot begin any sooner than the appointed time.
“It’s up to the board’s discretion,” Grant said, in choosing how to handle its scheduled agenda items.
An argument for the Spitzer map
During her Nov. 15 comments regarding her redistricting map motion, Commissioner Detert said of consultant Spitzer, “I think he did what he was supposed to do.” Although speakers contended that the adoption of that map would disenfranchise approximately 1,500 people, she continued, not all of those may be voters. In fact, Detert said, some of them even could be children.
Then Detert referenced the longstanding principles of redistricting. “Our charge is to not favor or disfavor an incumbent,” she pointed out. “We can’t deliberately draw people out of their seats …”
As for the Spitzer map, dubbed Alternative 1-A, Detert noted, “It’s compact, it’s concise, it’s contiguous, and it keeps communities of interest together. … It tweaks what we did in 2019 …”
Regarding the Goodrich 2 map: Detert pointed out that its configuration of her District, District 3, was problematic. “I had nothing in common with any of the people that would be [added to that district].”
Like Ziegler, Detert said she does not know attorney Goodrich “If he was in this crowd, I couldn’t pick him out of this crowd because I’ve never met the man.”
She did thank two of the speakers that day — Peter Imhoff of Englewood and R.N. Collins of Sarasota — for submitting maps for the board’s consideration. However, she added that no one from the organization Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections (SAFE) or the Florida League of Voters submitted maps.
SAFE was the chief advocate for the Single-Member Districts county Charter amendment that won voter approval during the November 2018 General Election. (See the related article in this issue.)
In commenting on his second of Detert’s motion Commissioner Moran mostly took the opportunity to voice opposition again to Single-Member Districts.
“Single-Member Districts has caused all of this angst,” Moran said, referring to speakers’ remarks that afternoon. “Everyone needs to be able to vote,” he added.
Moran did call the Spitzer proposal for this year “a solid map.”