Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Glades Redistricting Under Study To Avoid Lawsuits

Storter Suggests Hiring Consultant To Avoid Legal Litigation Again
MOORE HAVEN, FL. -- The Glades County Board of commissioners is considering the process of commission redistricting in accordance with state statutes to determine district boundaries that will comply with state requirements to maintain districts that are equally populated as near as possible using 2010 census data, and also to consolidate voting precincts.

At the last public meeting, Commissioner Donna Storter Long recommended that a professional consultant be utilized for this process to ensure legal defensibility, reminding the Board that after the last redistricting using 1990 census data, the Commission, Supervisor of Elections and School Board were embroiled in lengthy litigation about the representation provided by that redistricting, and the matter was not finally resolved until 2007 or 2008.

Storter stated that it would be less costly to hire an outside professional consultant than to legally defend our in-house staff recommendations if challenged, even though the consultant may recommend the exact same districting models.

Storter suggested the School Board, who is also required to redistrict, may be willing to share the cost of the professional services even if they did not adopt the exact same districts.

Any changes to commission districts must be made in an odd-numbered year, but in the state statutes or constitution, there is no deadline for completion and no penalty if changes are not made. Compliance can be achieved by reviewing the process in an odd-numbered year and officially move by Board Resolution to make no changes in the districts.

Chairman Echols commented that because the county population is currently represented “at large” rather than by single member districts, that all voters have the same input by being able to vote on every commissioner for every district, he questioned expending money and angst to go through this, when the people already have a “voice” in the county. He said the only requirement now is that a commissioner must live in their district, but they are voted on by everybody in the county.

County Attorney Pringle read from the Florida Statute Chapter 124 statutory provision concerning districting proportionate with census data. Interim County Manager Larry Hilton noted that a shifting of population has occurred since the last redistricting with the new jail detention center and state prison now in Glades County that were not there when the county was last redistricted and there is an increase in the population in the Muse area.

Commissioner Beck requested Mr. Hilton to provide the Board with a larger scale map of the current district boundaries with 2010 census population numbers.

Mr. Hilton explained that the census blocks providing the data for the county to work with vary in form, some only depicting a city block and some census blocks contain thousands of acres. He suggested following the census block boundaries which usually follow roads when they encounter a road, but he stated, “There is no rhyme or reason to the census blocks that I can see, other than they do follow…they won’t cross a road.”

Commissioner Storter suggested that utilizing census blocks for determining boundaries would be more legally defensible than just arbitrarily choosing a road for a boundary line.

Mr. Hilton stated he did not think we would be penalized by the state if we don’t change the districts but we could be in a lawsuit if a citizen filed. This is the scenario referred to earlier when ACLU sued the county.

Attorney Pringle agreed with Mr. Hilton and stated the real bottom line concern he would have at some point in the future would be the need for defending of a lawsuit against the county, that it is a significant consideration.

Commissioner Beck also suggested that each commissioner individually be apprised of staff findings and recommendations before the matter is brought back to the Board.

Commissioner Griffin’s motion passed 5-0 directing Attorney Pringle and Mr. Hilton to bring information back to the Board that would correspond with Florida statutes and to have the Supervisor of Elections involved in the process of redistricting our boundaries.

Currently, District 1 covers Port LaBelle, eastward along SE80 and south of the river to east side of Moore Haven, then north of city limits of Moore Haven taking in Washington Park and most of the area south of and west of the city limits of Moore Haven westward south of US 27 6 miles to SR 78, and on the east side of the northbound portion of US 27 to about Boar Hammock, served by Dennis Griffin and includes voting precincts 1, 11,12, 13

District 2 includes North LaBelle area, Muse, Ortona eastward to US 27 and north including Wayman Rd and Coffey Rd served by Donna Storter Long and includes voting precincts 2 and 5.

District 3 encompasses Palmdale, Lakeport and eastward on SR78 to Harney Pond Canal plus Brighton Indian Reservation and is the largest district geographically because of its sparsely spaced population, and is served by Paul Beck and includes voting precincts 4, 7, and 10.

District 4 includes the area contained within the city limits of the City of Moore Haven and is the smallest geographically because of its densely spaced population and is served by Russell Echols and includes voting precincts 3 and 6.

District 5 includes Buckhead Ridge and the areas westward on SR78 to Harney Pond Canal and is served by Tim Stanley and includes voting precincts 8 and 9.

-from Commissioner Donna Storter Long

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