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Hernando County School Board has right approach on redistricting

The Hernando School Board offered a polite response to their counterparts on the County Commission this week: No thanks, we don't want to see you in court. More importantly, when declining to sign off on new political maps carving the county into five geographic areas of 34,500 people each, the School Board showed justifiable contempt for a process skewed to benefit a single candidate for public office.

Instead of acquiescing to flawed commission logic, the School Board will meet again this week to consider new district maps that may not correspond precisely to the commission districts. It will be confusing to the public and will require extra personnel time for data entry at the Hernando Supervisor of Elections Office, but the School Board astutely wants to avoid a potential legal challenge to the county-written boundaries.

The two countywide bodies must redraw their district boundaries to accommodate population changes measured by the 2010 Census. Commissioners and board members are elected countywide, but must meet district residency requirements. As part of the redistricting, the NAACP authored its own boundary proposals that more evenly divided the county's 172,800 residents among five districts. The group hinted at legal action when the commission picked its own lines on a 5-0 vote.

The root of the problem is a commission more attuned to the wishes of a charismatic commission candidate than the input of the impartial, outside group or the School Board. Whether suspending impact fees for school construction or drawing political boundaries, commissioners have failed to fully account for school district sentiment.

In this most recent case, the commission displayed one set of district maps to the School Board in a joint public workshop, but later amended the lines at the request of Jason Sager, who filed candidacy papers for commission District 3 the day before the workshop. The county's initial maps moved the candidate's residence to District 5 and Sager publicly stated he did not wish to challenge that district's incumbent commissioner, Jim Adkins.

The commissioners didn't give final authorization to their version of the boundaries, which must be advertised publicly and forwarded to Tallahassee by Dec. 31, until five days ago at their final meeting of the year. The School Board withheld its approval later the same night. Initially, the board approved the NAACP maps, but withdrew that vote in favor of a special meeting to be held Tuesday.

Among the School Board's legitimate objections were the gerrymandering of Sager's residence, the limited time to review the county plan and the desire to avoid a fight with the NAACP even though the county legal staff advised that the county district maps were legally defensible.

During their debate, however, commissioners would have been wise to consider wisdom similar to what was offered by School Board member Matt Foreman who suggested "it's not just the result that matters. It's how you get to the result.''

Indeed. Commissioners arrived at a result that benefitted a single candidate — tea party favorite Sager whose political philosophy matches the less government mantra of Adkins and Commissioner Wayne Dukes. The public is better served by elected office-holders who try to avoid all appearances of bias and political cronyism. In this case, the better public service is coming from the Hernando School Board.

This editorial has been updated to correct the name of School Board member Matt Foreman.

Hernando County School Board has right approach on redistricting 12/17/11 [Last modified: Monday, December 19, 2011 4:44pm]
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