Pasco commissioners pick new district lines that could cut out a school board member

Letting one commissioner add her second home to her district could cut a school board member out of hers.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey's second home will now be in her commission district.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey's second home will now be in her commission district.
Published Oct. 12, 2021|Updated Oct. 12, 2021

DADE CITY — Pasco County commissioners gave a tentative nod Tuesday to new political district lines that would add the second home of Commissioner Kathryn Starkey into her district, but would also cut School Board member Alison Crumbley out of hers.

Commissioners said it was not a big deal for the schools to tweak their own district lines. But the move didn’t sit well with school officials, who in recent years have kept the same district boundaries as the county commissioners.

District boundaries will now go to a public hearing in early December to be finalized.

Assistant superintendent Ray Gadd told commissioners after their vote that School Board members hadn’t even seen the maps the commission was considering. Just doing a small tweak wouldn’t be so easy, “because we haven’t been involved in the process since the get go.”

In 2011, county and school officials decided to keep the same district lines. They met together to talk about them before any vote was taken.

The district lines, which delineate the geographic areas where each elected official must live to run for that district’s seat, are redrawn every 10 years after the U.S. Census. This year’s numbers show a large increase in Pasco’s population — from 464,697 in 2010 to 561,891 in 2020. The districts are redrawn to even out the numbers so each commissioner and school board member represents roughly the same number of residents.

County administrator Dan Biles said he took input from each of the county commissioners and presented his recommended version of the map based on that input. He said that because of Census result delays due to the pandemic, he didn’t have time to set up a joint meeting between commissioners and school board members.

Crumbley said she was “pretty insulted” by the commission’s map.

Pasco School Board member Alison Crumbley
Pasco School Board member Alison Crumbley

”It puts me out of running again, unless we redistrict (separately),” Crumbley said. “I don’t like being put in that position. ... I don’t like anything that has the appearance of being self-serving. That is not who I am. That is not what is best for the county.”

She said the commission provided “zero justification” for its proposed new districts, and she criticized the county for not including school district officials in the discussion ahead of dropping the maps publicly.

“It shouldn’t be politics,” Crumbley said. “This is about answering to the people and doing the right thing. ... To have this garbage thrown at me like this, it’s just not right.”

School Board member Cynthia Armstrong, whose district would be altered to include Crumbley, said she had not seen the map that the commission blessed. She had some concerns, though, that the commission would take such a step.

Pasco School Board member Cynthia Armstrong
Pasco School Board member Cynthia Armstrong

”It’s always been understood that when you redistrict, you don’t redistrict someone out of their current district,” said Armstrong, who has announced her 2022 reelection bid.

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She was particularly bothered because the commission did not consult with the board ahead of time.

If the commission is intent on moving in the current direction, Armstrong said, the board might have to convene its own redistricting effort.

”We’re not obligated to use their maps,” Armstrong said.

Starkey said she understood that the law would allow completion of the term for any elected official who might be out of their district when new lines were drawn. She said it would also be easy for school officials to bring the lines for their boundaries over slightly to put the School Board member back into the district.

When Starkey spoke to Biles about her thoughts on redistricting, she specifically asked for the Aristeda community to be back in her district, which is where her second home is located, she told the Tampa Bay Times. While she currently lives in Gulf Harbors, she is building a new house and plans to live in Aristeda, where her 87-year-old mother lives, while the new home is built.

Starkey said she wished that there had been more discussion about redistricting and involvement by the School Board before the maps were presented.

In 2016, a political opponent accused Starkey of living in the Aristeda house outside her district for half of her term, but nothing came of the complaint.

After the commissioners voted on the map on Tuesday morning, Starkey announced that she had lunch with School Board Chairman Allen Altman. When Starkey returned to the afternoon commission meeting, she said that after the School Board looks at the census numbers, it might offer an alternative that would allow Crumbley to stay in her district.

Crumbley said it “makes no sense” to draw a line down the middle of her neighborhood, cutting it in half for a political division. She noted that Starkey’s second home is a half mile away from where she lives. ”To me, it’s one neighborhood,” Crumbley said.

She was not keen on the idea of creating separate maps for the board and the commission, calling the single maps simpler and more efficient for the voters.

”Someone should have had some courtesy to have picked up the phone and called me,” Crumbley added.

Times staff writer C.T. Bowen contributed to this report.