Redistricting open houses underway in Sarasota County through Sept. 30

County webpage offers opportunity for the public to view alternate maps proposed by consultant and to fill out survey about redrawing of district boundaries

These are the existing County Commission districts. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Two down; three to go.

On the evening of Sept. 18, Sarasota County staff welcomed the public to the first open house conducted in conjunction with the County Commission’s plan to redraw district boundaries before the year ends.

Twenty people came to the Betty J. Johnson North County Library in Newtown to view alternative district maps, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant told The Sarasota News Leader.

The commissioners last week affirmed their direction for staff to hold an open house in each of the five districts. The events, set from 5 to 7 p.m., are to allow people to take a close-up look at enlarged versions of the alternate maps a consultant created for the commission. The open houses also are designed to enable members of the public to speak with staff and to submit their own conceptual ideas about the district boundaries.

The second open house was held on Thursday, Sept. 19, at the Frances T. Bourne Jacaranda Public Library in Venice.

The following three events are planned:

  • Monday, Sept. 23 — Selby Public Library, located at 1331 First St. in downtown Sarasota.
  • Wednesday, Sept. 25 — Gulf Gate Public Library, located at 7112 Curtiss Ave. in Sarasota.
  • Monday, Sept. 30 — Shannon Staub Public Library, located at 4675 Career Lane in North Port, on the Suncoast Technical College campus.

Members of the public unable to make it to an open house may take the opportunity to review documents county staff is providing on a webpage dedicated to the redistricting initiative. They also may fill out an online survey, which will remain active through Oct. 1, a county news release points out.

This is one page of a county document providing answers to frequently asked questions about the redistricting initiative this year. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Among the features on the webpage is the schedule Assistant County Administrator Brad Johnson provided the commissioners last week.

On Oct. 7, during a regular meeting, the board members will consider comments from the public about the alternate maps created by the Kurt Spitzer & Associates consulting firm of Tallahassee. Kurt Spitzer presented the maps to the board during a formal presentation on Sept. 11.

The commissioners also are scheduled on Oct. 7 to authorize advertisement of a public hearing on the adoption of new district lines.

Johnson told them on Sept. 11 that the goal that day would be for them to vote on the versions of the maps they would like to advertise for a public hearing on Nov. 5.

Then, on Nov. 5, the final district boundaries should be approved, he said. State law requires that the resulting overall map be advertised for two consecutive weeks, he added.

In late February, Commissioner Nancy Detert first called for staff research into redistricting, saying she understood the population counts were out of balance in the five districts.

Detert’s remarks at the end of a commission workshop came almost exactly a month after Charter Review Board member Donna Barcomb of Sarasota pointed out during the Jan. 30 meeting of her board that she had learned last year from the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office that a significant imbalance of registered voters existed in the five commission districts.

For example, Barcomb said, 57,270 registered voters were in District 1, compared to 73,633 in District 5, when she reviewed the data.

After discussions in May, the County Commission directed staff to proceed with hiring a firm to assist with the drawing of new district boundaries before the end of the year, as allowed by state law. They stressed that they should not wait until after the 2020 Census results are available.

This is a segment of the online survey regarding redistricting. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Detert and other commissioners have argued that redistricting must be undertaken this year because voters in November 2018 approved a Single-Member District Charter amendment that allows a voter to cast a ballot just for a County Commission candidate who lives in the same district as the voter. Previously, all the commissioners were elected countywide.

Last week, commissioners again made the argument that they need to ensure the population deviation from district to district is as small as possible, given the fact that three seats on the board are up for election in 2020. The board members said it would not be fair to county residents to have uneven representation, with Single-Member District voting being implemented in 2020.

However, opponents of redistricting this year contend that the commission initiative is founded purely in politics. Both Detert and Commissioner Michael Moran are up for re-election, though only Detert thus far has said she will campaign again. Chair Charles Hines is term-limited, so his seat also will be open in 2020.

All five of the commissioners are Republicans.

Democrats have pointed to the fact that Moran would be more vulnerable, because he represents District 1, which has a larger percentage of registered Democrats than other areas of the county.

Detert has encouraged members of the public to prepare their own versions of district maps for the board’s consideration.