It appears that incumbents are once again being protected by the government they inhabit in the redistricting process for the City of St. Petersburg. This is despite the appointment of a Citizen commission to draw new lines for electing City Council members beginning this year*. This commission was created by special referendum in 2011 by the voters and includes eight citizen representatives of each district appointed by current council members and one by the Mayor for a total of nine. Yet the real power lies in the hands of the city staffers and the attorneys who are using powerful mapping programs to provide options for redistricting to the commission. The one over arching criteria that seems to be trumping all other considerations seems to be keeping the current City Council members in office. This is odd since redistricting in 2012 subjected every State legislator and Senator and in the U.S. House of Representatives to re-election this year. However the citizens of St. Petersburg will not be given that option. Instead, they must be subjected to a limited set of options for the new redistricting maps.
CORRECTION. A PREVIOUS EDITION GAVE THE INCORRECT DATE FOR REDISTRICTING COMMISSION MEETINGS. MEETINGS ARE ON TUESDAY AND THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED TO REFLECT THAT.
The commission, chaired by Dr. Linda Lucas, will be meeting at 4 p.m. each Tuesday between now and February 12. At the January 8th meeting, they received recommendations for five options for redistricting from city staff. However, the city Attorney Mark Winn advised the Commission that they must allow their current Council members to remain in their seats. While the Attorney admits this is not listed among the requirements for drawing new districts for the City, it is implied since Council members must live in their district or face removal from office. He then implied that it would cost the city inordinate amounts of money to run “Special elections” for vacancies created when in fact, the elections will be occurring regardless and the only burden on the Council would be for new members to be reappointed by the Mayor until regularly scheduled elections can occur this year.
The Staff advised that based on the limitation of the City Council members, that only 5 reasonable options existed for redistricting and at least two or three of those options had subotptimal districts when it came to being “compact” as required by the city. These district maps will be made available on this site over the remainder of this week. However citizens who are interested in having an impact on this process should attend the meeting Tuesday at City Hall at 4 p.m. and submit public comments to City Clerk Eva Andujar at Eva.Andujar@stpete.org. Unfortunately, the Commission chair has not made a decision regarding allowing public testimony at this time. More details relating to redistricting and the applicable ordinances will be made available on this blog over the week.
*In the interest of Full disclosure, Dr. McKalip, the founder of the Sun Beam Times and the author of this article is planning to run for City Council in District 4 this year.