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Realigned district may end campaign

Even though it was early, county parks director Pat Fagan announced last August that he would run for School Board District 2.

He even filed the appropriate paperwork and opened a campaign account. As of Tuesday afternoon, Fagan remained the only official candidate.

But "early" might turn out to mean premature for the Berkeley Manor resident.

At the request of Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams, county commissioners and School Board members are trying to realign and match their districts, and the current preferred map draws Fagan out of District 2.

Instead, he would live in a district that does not come up for election until 2006.

"I've been waiting for a long time to run for a School Board position, and I was looking forward to that," Fagan said Tuesday. "I also understand the county has to do their thing. Hopefully, something will come about that I won't be out of the district."

Neither government has adopted a district map yet. County planning director Larry Jennings, who is in charge of providing alternatives, said he hoped to have a firm recommendation to the boards next week.

Fagan's candidacy was not taken into consideration, Jennings said. First and foremost was getting Commissioner Mary Aiken and School Board member Robert Wiggins into one district, and Commissioner Nancy Robinson and School Board member Gail David into another.

They all live close to one another, Jennings said, and they must be split so their election cycles are not thrown off. Add to that the requirement that each district must have similar populations, within 5 percent, and matching the districts becomes "very difficult if not impossible," Jennings said.

He noted that the lines could be redrawn at the request of the School Board or the County Commission.

School Board members were split on the idea of whether to accommodate Fagan.

David, who would face Fagan if he remains in District 2, said she did not know Fagan or where he lived. She worried that the board could be accused of gerrymandering if it uses potential candidate addresses to set its representative districts.

"To keep it clean, you really can't have any particular person in mind," David said. "You can't tailor-make the lines because one person has shown interest. It's not appropriate."

She noted that none of the School Board members had any input in the maps presented to them during a recent meeting with commissioners. She empathized with Fagan.

"It would be unfortunate if it precluded him from running in District 2," said David, who has not decided whether to seek re-election. "But it doesn't preclude him from running later in the district he resides in."

Vice chairwoman Sandra Nicholson suggested Fagan had "jumped the gun" in declaring his election bid so soon. She agreed it would be wrong to create districts based on where potential candidates live.

"I don't think it's fair to zone out people who are there" in office, Nicholson said. "But as far as potentials, it's come what may."

Board chairman John Druzbick was more forgiving. The board has no legal obligation to hopefuls who enter the race before the district lines are set, Druzbick said. But if Fagan brings the matter to the board, he added, "that's something we're going to probably have to address."

Wiggins called Fagan's concern "legitimate" and suggested that, if the map changes were small, the board should look into meeting Fagan's request. Fagan's home is just a few blocks outside the proposed District 2 lines, in Wiggins' district.

"If he had just said, "I'm going to run, I'm thinking about running,' then, no," Wiggins said. "But he's already announced. It's something we should consider."

Fagan made clear he was not accusing anyone of purposely messing with his political ambition.

"It's a year to make some changes," he said. "I just hope that somehow, some way, maybe this can be evaluated."

_ Jeffrey S. Solochek covers education in Hernando County and can be reached at 754-6115. Send e-mail to solocheksptimes.com.

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