Hernando commissioners shouldn't draw new district lines to benefit themselves. Just as importantly, they shouldn't acquiesce to announced candidates seeking special considerations for their own political benefit.
That is the current scenario playing out just days before the commission and Hernando School Board must approve new district boundaries to accommodate population changes measured by the 2010 Census. Tuesday, commissioners pushed back a decision until Dec. 13, their final meeting of the year, after being unable to reach consensus in light of Commissioner Jeff Stabins' absence.
In November, however, the board agreed to tweak its boundary proposals after objections from candidate Jason Sager who filed qualifying papers to run for the commission seat held by District 3 incumbent John Druzbick. The original boundaries, developed by county staff, had moved Sager to District 5, now represented by Jim Adkins. Both seats are up for election in 2012. The incumbents and Sager all are enrolled in the Republican Party, but the challenger's tea party philosophy is more aligned with Adkins' less-government beliefs.
In essence, the board allowed Sager to pick his preferred opponent instead of following the staff recommendations to draw boundaries intended to divide the county's nearly 172,800 residents among five districts. Commissioners are elected by voters countywide, but must reside in their district by the conclusion of the election. In other words, Sager still could have challenged Druzbick, and simply moved, if he won a plurality, by the time the canvassing board certifies the Election Day results.
A separate redistricting plan from the NAACP more evenly divides the county's population, but does not follow major roads as its district boundaries. NAACP local president Paul Douglas, also an announced candidate for Adkins' commission seat, accurately challenged the commission's plan as a thinly disguised attempt at gerrymandering to placate Sager.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes, at one point, questioned why the commission had to redraw its boundaries. A do-nothing option satisfies Sager's desires, but is illegal since it puts too many residents in the district represented by Commissioner David Russell.
While using major roads as district boundaries is logical, it is more imperative to assemble a plan that is equitable in distributing Hernando's population. Commissioners — particularly Adkins and Dukes — shouldn't try to accommodate a tea party buddy. And, candidate Sager can kick-start his campaign for public service by showing the public that its interests supersede his own self interests.