The St. Petersburg Redistricting Commission met tonight to hear public input on redrawing election districts for St. Petersburg City Council. They heard a majority of testimony telling them to go back to the drawing board and draw maps that were more likely to serve many interests of the citizens. They even got a copy of a proposed map dubbed “plan 99” by local St. Petersburg activist Matt Florell (full size version below). Plan 99 satisfies nearly every criterion the Commission has sought save one: it would draw out City Council Woman Leslie Curran who will be ineligible to run again in 2013. The commission heard from many citizens who wanted more “majority-minority” districts so that the council would be more likely to have African-American or other minority leaders elected. Finally, the commission even heard many pleas from citizens who were looking forward to a race between Darden Rice and yours truly, Dr. David McKalip, for City council in District 4.
The plan offered by Matt Florell is reproduced here and meets all the legal requirements for the city: compact, contiguous districts respecting precinct boundaries with major centerlines as borders and no more than a 2% variance in population between districts. He even kept seven of eight council members in their districts but sacrificed Leslie Curran’s seat which borders on the current district 3, from the district 4 she now represents. The map was handed to the Commission members who will now consider it in their deliberations. This map was done by one man with Powerpoint and Excel, not by an entire staff of bureaucrats using powerful computer program. His plan 99 proves that the Redistricting commission is being denied realistic and reasonable options that satisfy many interests.
Prospective City Council candidate Darden Rice presented her case that she and Dr. McKalip (the founder of this blog and author of this piece) were interested in running. She stated that the Commission should respect that citizens are stepping up to serve and consider that in their deliberations. She was obviously busy organizing her grassroots supporters as a veritable who’s who of local Democrat and progressive grassroots activists were present to support her preferred map which kept her in the race. Darden Rice pointed out that she has three residences in district 4 but each and every one of them was redistricted out. She complained that the process was very subjective and suggested drawing new maps and putting every map possibility online for all citizens to see. At one point, another prospective candidate, Lee Palmer, asked for support of a plan that would keep him in district 4 where he may run and advised this reporter that the other plans would exclude him from running.
For my part, I offered that the Commission was being misled by a city staff that had already proven their deception in the past. They had first advised the Commission that current City Council members MUST be retained in their seats. They then back pedaled on that claim at the next meeting but denied they had ever claimed otherwise despite written minutes and meeting materials to the contrary. I advised them that they had a duty to have new maps drawn and should not insist that current city council members stay in their districts. Instead I advised them to use “compactness” as the best criteria. I pointed out that after the city staff misled and deceived them, that they should realize that they had a conflict of interest. It seemed that the city staff was interested in supporting the status quo that kept the same politicians in office who have proven time and time again they would rather raise taxes than even consider cutting bloated government worker benefits, salaries and even unnecessary positions. I pointed out that the city staff likely wanted to maintain the status quo that ensured ever enlarging government and more bureaucrat jobs in perpetuity. I advised the Redistricting commission to retain an objective third party to redraw many options that were not affected by City Staff conflict of interest. For the record, as a prospective candidate I am more interested in a fair redistricting process that respects the interests of citizens than being able to run for City Council this year. If the time is right for me to sacrifice my time to serve the city, then the decision of the commission will have me run. If not, there are plenty of ways to serve besides holding office.
The commission has till mid-February to make its final recommendations and will have one more public hearing along the way.