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RESIDENTS OF SOUTH SHORE LACK LOCAL VOICE

If the residents of South Shore wanted to convene a meeting of its elected officials at the South Shore Library, one congressional member (Kathy Castor) would come in from Tampa and the other (Adam Putnam) would arrive from Polk County.

Its state senators (Ronda Storms and Arthenia Joyner) would have to drive from Valrico and Tampa respectively. And two of its three state representatives would have to trek from Lakeland (Seth McKeel) and Bradenton (Ron Reagan), respectively.

South Shore's County Commission representation is divided between a Tampa resident (Rose Ferlita) and a Plant City resident (Al Higginbotham). Its School Board representation is much the same, split between South Tampa (Candy Olson) and Valrico (Jennifer Faliero).

The officials who hold county-wide spots on the County Commission and the School Board also live in other parts of the county.

Not one of the 17 elected officials - excluding the governor, U.S. senators and state Cabinet officers - charged with representing South Shore could walk or bike to the meeting. Not one lives south of the Alafia River and north of the Hillsborough/Manatee county line between U.S. 41 and U.S. 301.

Of the 17, only state Rep. Rachel Burgin has what can be classified as a South Shore address.But her home in Riverview's Winthrop community is closer to Brandon, which comprises the bulk of her district.

As the Times prepared for a month of stories leading up to the Aug. 24 primary, I was struck by how the districts have South Shore residents pulling representatives from all over west-central Florida.

Consider Sun City Center. If you live north of State Road 674 between Interstate 75 and U.S. 301, Reagan currently serves as the state representative.

However, if you live south of State Road 674 between 36th Street SE and U.S. 301, McKeel serves as your representative.

The jigsaw cutting of South Shore hasn't gone unnoticed by the folks at Fair Districts Florida. The organization wants to change the process for creating districts and on its website, it uses Castor's congressional district, which includes Ruskin and Apollo Beach, as an example of why we need new laws.

Fair Districts Florida has placed Amendments 5 and 6 on the November ballot which, if approved, would prohibit gerrymandering. Districts drawn in 2012 after the U.S. Census results come in will be compact and utilize existing political and geographical boundaries.

The Legislature placed Amendment 7 on the ballot, which would negate most of the requirements instituted by Amendments 5 and 6.

The current lines raise the question: Has a lack of neighborly representation translated to poor representation?

On the county level, Ruskin's Fred Jacobsen, founder of the South Shore Economic Development Council, said Ferlita and Higginbotham are "nice people who listen," but credits citizens rather than elected officials for improvements.

"The area relies on grass roots movements of people to come together on their own dime and own time to say, 'What about us?' " said Jacobsen, who credits such groups for the library in Ruskin. "I think it's been, from my observation, an ongoing issue of representation."

On the other hand, Melanie Morrison, executive director of the Ruskin Chamber of Commerce, said her organization intensified its efforts to connect with county commissioners and has been pleased with the response.

"We've let them know we have a large business voice and a large community," Morrison said. "They've acknowledged that, and the message we've gotten back is that they are concerned."

Ferlita, who also represents parts of West Tampa, South Tampa and Town 'N Country, said residents' perception remains a challenge.

"They feel like they're the stepchild of District 1, and I knew I was inheriting that going in," Ferlita said. "But I've made as many trips there and to Town 'N Country as I have anywhere else. If you're doing what you're supposed to do, it's not a problem."

Former county commissioner and current Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank crafted the current County Commission lines in 2002. She argues that nothing is prohibiting a South Shore resident from running for office and winning over residents who live outside of the immediate area.

Apollo Beach native and resident Z.J. Hafeez accepts the task and is running for state House District 67. To have any chance, he'll have to win over a lot of residents not in South Shore, but in Manatee County.

That's all I'm saying.

Up next:CRIME REPORT

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