The City of St. Petersburg’s Redistricting commission met again today to determine the electoral districts for the next ten years in St. Petersburg. They have narrowed the choices down to three that they will finalize tomorrow at a hastily called meeting. However, the committee Chair Dr. Linda Lucas is allowing the commission to proceed without ensuring full input from all citizen representatives. Three of the nine members of the commission were absent today and it is unlikely they will have a full group tomorrow when they meet. Dr. Lucas is indicating it is enough that there is a legal “quorum” to conduct this business and it matter not if some members are missing. It may be worth noting that Commission Chair Dr. Linda Lucas has a recently been member of the Pinellas County Democrat Party Executive Committee (2010-2012). It seems odd that a politically biased person is in charge of redrawing districts for non-partisan seats. This is especially true since the commissioners themselves have commented that the way these districts are drawn is very important for policy formation for the City of St. Petersburg.
At today’s meeting there was a discussion on new options for redistricting focusing on the requirements that the districts be compact, contiguous, and follow precinct boundaries. The City attorney originally misinformed the Redistricting commission that incumbents MUST be retained in their districts. Dr. Lucas continues to assert that maintain incumbents in their seats is an important criteria. One wonders if a State Committee woman for the Pinellas Democratic Party would have an interest in retaining Democratic incumbents in their seats in St. Petersburg. This is an obvious conflict of interest and should disqualify Dr. Lucas from serving on this commission at all, much less serving as the Chair.
Member Dan Kunitzer (appointed by Charlie Gerdes) expressed his concern that the commission should never have been informed of any incumbent address. He and Paul Dickens went on to indicate that since incumbent addresses were considered, that candidate addresses should also be considered. Mr. Dickens actually asked this author and Darden Rice where they lived since they had expressed interest in running. (Dr. McKalip filed to run today and is the only candidate currently registered to run for any Council seat). This author indicated he did not want to influence the commission by giving his address. Darden Rice volunteered that she and Dr. McKalip both lived in precinct 140 in the Allendale area and Dr. McKalip acknowledged this when pressed by the Commission to reveal his address.
In the end, the commission seemed to settle on options #2 and 5 from prior meetings. They also expressed interest in option #7 which was presented tonight. They ultimately rejected the citizen submitted Plan 99 which was redubbed “NR 3”. They agreed they would meet tomorrow to try to have more commissioners in attendance to come up with a final choice. That final choice will be offered in a public hearing on February 5. Unfortunately commissioners Greg Holden, Theresa McEachern and Ann Sherman-White were not present at the meeting tonight due to scheduling conflicts. The members present were Paul Dickens, David Herzik, Dan Kunitzer, Brian Ligon, Linda Lucas, and Laurel Macdonald.
Dr. Lucas, as the committee chair is doing a disservice to the Citizens of St. Petersburg. She is pushing a decision without a full commission meeting and falling back on a technicality about quorums. The fact is that this process is of a level of importance that should prompt the commission to delay a final decision until all members are present. That can be done next week. The commission has until February 15 to get the final recommendation. They could meet on February 12th immediately after a public hearing on that night to finalize their recommendations. It is worth noting that City Attorney Mark Winn quipped that he was glad that the commission would not have to meet on February 12th since he was “going to Mardi Gras”. So much for a political class that is serving its citizens first. It is also highly inappropriate that a State committee woman for the Democratic party Dr Linda Lucas she should be on the commission at all. Candidates for these Council seats must be non-partisan. They are also not allowed to serve in any position with a political party such as state committee man or woman. That standard should be held for Redistricting Commission as well.
This process is flawed and unnecessarily so. The Commission should not protect incumbents. They should not disenfranchise 3/8 of the city by not having their representatives present for the final decision. They should not be lead by a person who spends her free time trying to get members of the Democrat Party elected to higher office! They should not consider any interest other than drawing fair maps that best serve the citizens they work for. It looks like the City of St. Petersburg is going to continue to suffer under the yolk of the political class and their rigged processes that serve their own interests at the expense of everyone else. For the time being.