At a special city commission meeting Wednesday night, commissioners voted 4 to 1 in favor of the second and final reading of the latest redistricting plan. District 2 Commissioner Velma Williams cast the only dissenting vote.
Early in the meeting, the discussion involved the possibility of shifting some of the businesses west of Rinehart Road from one district to another. Commissioner Art Woodruff and Mayor Linda Kuhn pointed out that it was not possible to do so because the suggested changes would disrupt the contiguous boundaries required by court order.
The mayor also pointed out that any significant changes made to the plan would result in reverting back to a first reading, which would then put the redistricting plan in jeopardy of not being finished before the qualifying period begins in January for the March city elections.
The discussion then turned to which specific apartment complexes in the Rinehart Road area would remain in District 2 and which would be placed in District 4. At the Dec. 11 meeting, the general feeling was that most of the estimated 5,423 residents in that area would be placed as a whole in either District 2 or District 4.
Examination of the maps and data prior to Wednesday’s meeting resulted in a more accurate estimated breakdown provided by city staff. The new data showed the most recent plan putting an estimated 2,397 residents in District 4 and leaving an estimated 3,026 residents in District 2. Williams would later cite this information as one of the reasons she would not support the plan.
Commissioner Jack Bridges reminded his colleagues to focus on the business at hand, which was simply to approve or disapprove the second reading of the ordinance that passed by a 5-0 margin on Dec. 11.
“We’re getting bogged down in little pieces of sand when we are trying to build a mountain,” he said.
He pointed out that he has never requested any businesses be added or removed from his district and restated his belief that the whole purpose of the redistricting effort was to maintain the integrity of District 2.
The meeting then segued into a discussion based on information provided by the supervisor of elections indicating the percentage of registered black voters in District 2 is currently somewhere between 46 and 49 percent — giving cause to the concern that District 2 is not truly a majority-minority district in terms of actual voting power.
Commissioner Art Woodruff pointed out that the city does not control the ethnicity of new residents moving into the area and said the only way to limit the number of whites moving into District 2 would be to restrict the overall growth in the area.
Addressing that same concerns, Bridges said: “District 2 is diluting itself by population change and growth.”
After praising Henry Sweet and James Davis for the input they provided during the redistricting process, he said, “Folks, there ain’t no perfect solution to what we’re doing. We’re doing the best we can.”
He later said, “This plan is as close as we are going to get to a doctrine of fairness.”
Williams then said the residents would be better served if redistricting were done using 2005 population data instead of 2000 Census data.
If that were to occur, the city would likely enter into legal territory similar to a recent redistricting case in Osceola County, where redistricting plans were drawn using 2005 population data. In that case, it was a Hispanic majority-minority district at the heart of the debate.
According to City Attorney William Colbert, a federal judge ruled against Osceola County’s use of 2005 population data, saying the data was “unpersuasive.” Osceola’s redistricting plan now has to be redrawn using 2000 Census data.
Williams suggested that Sanford try using 2005 data because the federal judge never stated that using 2005 population data was actually “illegal,” it was simply not persuasive enough for him to rule in favor of it.
While addressing that subject Friday afternoon, she explained that she would have felt more comfortable putting the decision in a judge’s hands, if for no other reason than to give residents the added assurance that every possible effort had been made to use the most recent population data.
During citizen participation, Turner Clayton, president of the Seminole County branch of the NAACP, admonished the commission for breaking the law in regard to not redistricting in 2002 and used the analogy of stealing a TV and trying to replace it six years later.
He said he was not in favor of any of the proposed plans and stated his belief that the best solution would have been to reapportion the districts — adding two more city commission districts. This, in his opinion, would have solved the redistricting problem.
It was pointed out later that reapportioning would require an amendment to the city charter and would have to be placed on the ballot for voter approval.
Clayton also said the plan being voted on increased the white population in District 1 in order to protect that district seat.
He suggested the redistricting process was rushed because of the close margin of victory in 2004 when a white candidate (Art Woodruff) narrowly defeated a minority candidate (Bernard Mitchell) in a runoff election for the District 1 seat.
Friday afternoon Woodruff responded to Clayton’s remark by saying, “There is no basis for Mr. Clayton’s comments other than his own imagination. The city attorney presented the need to redistrict to every new city manager and that was the basis to do the redistricting.”
During the meeting, Henry Sweet praised Williams for the views she expressed in regard to redistricting and agreed with Clayton that reapportioning the city commission districts was an idea worth exploring.
He expressed his appreciation for being allowed to give his input during the planning process even though he considers the process itself to be flawed. He said he would have liked to have seen more of the redistricting work done in work sessions and in reference to the final plan said, “There’s no way I can personally sanction it.”
Before the final vote took place, Williams restated her belief that using 2005 population data would have produced a truer representation of the current population. She also said that if all of the residents living near the Rinehart Road area would have been taken out of District 2 she would have supported the plan.
Woodruff said he was not sure the Commission could have done a better job of protecting District 2. He raised a few eyebrows when he said he would be open to the idea of addressing redistricting again before the 2009 city elections, even though the city would still be required to use 2000 Census data.
Before putting the matter to a vote, Kuhn took a few moments to apologize for the previous Commission’s failure to address redistricting in 2002.
“I think it’s very shameful that we have a court order that was put into place, there was a joint agreement entered into, and then for whatever reason this commission failed to take action. That is why part of this ordinance that we are voting on tonight does specify that this commission will be required to take action when the census information is released, so that we won’t ever have to face this in the manner in which we are having to do this.”
At the conclusion of her remarks the mayor said, “We can’t take back what wasn’t done in 2002, but I would personally like to apologize to the community, even though I didn’t sit on this commission at that time, that it was not done. Had it been done, the feelings that have been permeating the community could have perhaps been avoided.”
With the redistricting process now complete, Supervisor of Elections Michael Ertel and his office will now update the voter records of all registered voters in Sanford to make sure they vote in the proper district.
Ertel also said that all registered voters in Sanford will receive new voter registration cards regardless of which district they live in.