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Objections delay a decision on Hernando redistricting

BROOKSVILLE — Faced with questions about gerrymandering and districts that still would not include equal numbers of residents, the Hernando County Commission on Tuesday postponed until next week a decision about redistricting.

Both the commission and the Hernando School Board will have to vote on the issue next week since both bodies will be meeting for the final time in 2011, and a new map must be drawn by the end of the year.

Redistricting — a process during which the population is evened out in the five County Commission and School Board districts — happens every 10 years, after each census. The lines matter to the candidates for office because they must live in their districts, but are of little importance to voters because residents are able to cast ballots for candidates in all districts.

This year's plan ran into a problem when the County Commission and School Board sat in a joint workshop Nov. 1 to consider several new maps developed by the county planning staff.

They chose one and altered it slightly, but also agreed to consider a map drawn by the local NAACP. The NAACP map brought population numbers closer than the county maps, but didn't follow major roads.

While the county's map kept all of the announced 2012 candidates in their previous districts, Jason Sager prefiled to run for County Commission in District 3 the day before the workshop. With the map picked out for consideration by the commission, Sager would have been moved to District 5.

He argued that he should be allowed to say in his old district, and commissioners agreed to accommodate him.

But some in the community, including the leaders of the NAACP, argued that the change amounted to gerrymandering.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Dave Russell said the commission should take another look at the NAACP plan because it didn't carry the perception that the lines were drawn for some political purpose.

NAACP president Paul Douglas, also a County Commission candidate, said his organization opposed the county's proposal and favored the map it had drawn, noting that it was the most concise and came closer to having an equal number of people in each district. It only considered where incumbent commissioners and School Board members live, which is allowed by law, but not challengers, he said.

Michael Burmann, who is running in the District 1 commission race, said that all the challengers landing in different districts under the NAACP plan would likely raise a red flag.

"It's an obvious maneuver to help incumbents keep their seat,'' Burmann said. "If you adopt that, you're stepping into a big pile of it.''

Adkins also noted that the county's map still has his district with about 700 people fewer than Russell's, and commissioners agreed that, before staffers bring the plan back next week, they address the disparity.

Commissioners voted 4-0 to bring the slightly modified county proposal and the NAACP proposal back before the commission next Tuesday. Then the commission's choice will be forwarded to the School Board for final approval later that day.

Both county and school officials have said they want to keep district lines the same for both entities.

The delay also allows Commissioner Jeff Stabins to weigh in on the issue. He was absent from Tuesday's meeting, saying he had a family emergency, according to Adkins.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Objections delay a decision on Hernando redistricting 12/06/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 8:14pm]
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