SARASOTA — With an overflowing crowd mostly opposed and more than 35 speakers imploring them to stop, Sarasota County commissioners ignored their pleas and voted to adopt the most controversial of two maps setting up new boundaries for their commission districts.
By a 3-2 vote Tuesday, commissioners adopted Map 4.1, a derivative of an earlier map submitted anonymously by Bob Waechter, a former chairman of the county Republican Party who remains a behind-the-scenes power broker in Sarasota County politics and was convicted of a dirty election trick during the 2012 commission election.
Only Commissioners Charles Hines and Christian Ziegler voted against the map, preferring instead Map 2-A.1.
Many of those who spoke to commissioners Tuesday during the public hearing represented Newtown, the historically African-American community of Sarasota. Map 4.1 moved Newtown from District 1 into District 2, forcing its voters to wait until 2022 before they can next vote on a county commissioner under the county’s new single-member district format.
County voters approved a change to the county charter in 2018 to adopt single-member districts, meaning that only voters living in a particular district will vote on a commissioner for that district.
In making the motion to approve Map 4.1, Commissioner Mike Moran, whom critics claimed was the main beneficiary of that map, took pains to point out that the map had its genesis from Jono Miller, “a respected Democratic activist,” who attempted to draw new districts based on geographic regions.
Waechter’s original map adopted the same concept, but the numbers within each district were “so out of whack” according to Commissioner Nancy Detert that commissioners had dismissed it entirely.
They did, however, direct their consultant, Kurt Spitzer, to work with that map and see if they could make it workable.
“We need to do this correctly. We have done this correctly. We will continue to do this correctly,” Moran said.
But former Circuit Judge Preston DeVillbiss and Dan Lobeck, an attorney, pointed out to commissioners that there was no statutes or case law mandating that commissioners redistrict this year.
“The prudent thing from a legal point of view is wait until you get the Census numbers,” DeVillbiss said. “You would be better served if you wait until you get the good numbers in.”
Lobeck said he’d heard from people who had the money and said, “There will be a lawsuit if you approve this.”
Later, Ziegler, who said he would have preferred waiting until after the results of the 2020 Census, said he had heard as well that there would be a lawsuit filed challenging their redistricting decision.
If the new map survives any legal challenges, it will be in effect for commission districts up for election in 2020. Those districts are District 3 represented by Commissioner Nancy Detert, District 1 represent by Moran, and District 5, which will be an open sent since Hines is term limited out.