RUSKIN — Labeled the "small meeting room," the space designated for people to see how South Shore voters might be divvied up for County Commission elections was hardly cavernous, but there was a distinct echo:
"I'd like to see more of a regional representation," said Scott Barrish, who's moving to Valrico from Riverview.
Barrish, who expressed the sentiment that would be heard numerous times during the meeting, was one of about 20 people who turned out at the South Shore Regional Service Center last week to view maps showing how voting districts might be redrawn in light of the latest population figures from the 2010 U.S. Census. Many told county staff members they want the lines to define a distinct south county district, providing residents the opportunity to vote for a commissioner to represent those interests.
Many also expressed disappointment because proposed boundaries for District 1, which currently lumps Ruskin, Apollo Beach and Gibsonton in an upside-down hook-shaped territory with South Tampa and Town 'N Country, showed nearly imperceptible shifts on five different options.
"This is not all-encompassing," county spokesman Steve Valdez said. "This is just a starting point."
Community meetings on redistricting efforts are being held in neighborhoods around the county through the end of the month. The county charter mandates redistricting, or reapportionment, every 10 years, based on the latest census figures. County commissioners must approve a reapportionment plan by June 20 to submit to the U.S. Justice Department, which evaluates the effort according to various criteria, including whether minorities have a level playing field to win public office.
The Hillsborough County Commission has seven seats, three of which are filled through countywide elections. The four districts with dedicated representatives are supposed to have roughly the same number of voters, but they can deviate up to 10 percent in population size, said Mary Helen Farris, a deputy county attorney.
The oddly shaped District 1 was created a decade ago, just before the 2001 deadline and with little public input. People who huddled with county staff members last week swirled their hands over district maps to re-draw their preferred boundaries or lined them in with pencils.
Farris said proposals to dramatically move boundaries would require sophisticated testing to determine how the changes would affect other districts that lost population or ethnic voters in the shift.
"There's a very complex program that they run," Farris said. "You move these lines, and all the numbers change."
She recommended that constituents who want different options contact county commissioners and ask them to direct staffers to test specific new boundaries.
While many at the meeting championed a South Shore district stretching from the Alafia River south to the Hillsborough-Manatee county line, others said they would accept a district that clustered south county neighborhoods with eastern Hillsborough communities that hug the Polk County line.
"We in the south county (area) have nothing in common with Town 'N Country and South Tampa," said John Evon, a 15-year resident of Apollo Beach.
Susan Marschalk Green can be reached at [email protected]