As the Florida Legislature gears up for what’s expected to be another politically thorny redistricting process, Pinellas County this week is launching its first-ever citizen initiative to propose any changes to Board of County Commission district boundaries.
Voters in 2016 passed a referendum creating the Pinellas County Redistricting Board, which will meet for the first time on Wednesday and be advised by local government consultant Kurt Spitzer.
The last redistricting, which occurs once-a-decade after each U.S. Census to adjust for population shifts, was handled by county planning staff. In 2011, the commission approved staff’s proposal for no changes to the three at-large seats and slight adjustments to four district maps.
With minimal countywide population growth since 2010, and only four months to work with before the end-of-year deadline, officials predict a relatively uneventful Pinellas redistricting process.
“I don’t expect any of the committee members to have any kind of agenda, it’s being consultant-driven,” said Clearwater attorney Brian Aungst Jr., one of 11 residents the commission appointed to the board in August. “Even if someone wanted to come up with some complicated model or had the capability of doing that, there’s not a lot of time.”
Census figures arrived to states about six months late as the coronavirus pandemic delayed the collection and reporting of data. The redistricting board’s recommendations will be advisory, and the commission must vote on the maps by December, Spitzer said.
The board could decide to keep the districts unchanged or make minor adjustments to district lines. Even if maps are redrawn in ways that significantly change district boundaries, any affected commissioner would not have to run again for their seat until their four-year term is up, Spitzer said.
“Even if someone gets redistricted out of their district but they have two years left in their term, the voters have already voted that person in, and that person can stay in office for the balance of those two years,” Spitzer said.
County Attorney Jewel White said Pinellas has no rule in its charter requiring commissioners to automatically re-run for their seats following a redistricting process, and neither does the state.
That’s not the case in Hillsborough County, where the charter requires district elections after new boundaries are drawn based on census data. All four Hillsborough commission district seats will be up for election next year, along with two of the three countywide seats.
The next Pinellas County Commission election is in November 2022, when terms are up for District 4 Commissioner Dave Eggers, District 6 Commissioner Kathleen Peters, both Republicans, and District 2 at-large Commissioner Pat Gerard, a Democrat. Peters has already filed paperwork with the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections to run for reelection. Eggers and Gerard have not yet filed but confirmed with the Tampa Bay Times they plan to run again.
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But any shift in district lines could have an impact on future political outcomes. The commission achieved its first Democratic majority since the 1960s when Gerard was elected in 2014. The 4-3 majority last year barely survived an offensive by Republican, anti-mask candidates supported by residents who pledged to seek revenge for the commission’s 11-month face covering mandate amid the pandemic.
Democratic commissioners Charlie Justice and Janet Long kept their seats by little more than half a percentage point and one percentage point, respectively.
Spitzer said since 2010, the county’s population grew by just 7 percent to 984,000 residents, and that increase appears to be evenly distributed.
In comparison, Hillsborough County had a 20 percent population growth over the last decade to 1.47 million and Pasco County had a 17 percent increase to 542,638 residents, according to estimates by the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
The consultant’s job will be to explain the population data and shifts to the board, develop potential maps using geographic information software and facilitate community outreach meetings, according to the county’s solicitation. The county will pay Spitzer $43,000, according to the contract.
Spitzer has helped 22 local governments in Florida with redistricting, including some in the Tampa Bay area. Pinellas County hired him in 2000 to draw the four district and three at-large maps after residents in 1999 voted to change the makeup of the then-five at-large seats.
The board will hold four community meetings in October before giving its first presentation to the commission in November, according to the consultant’s schedule.
County officials initially stated Wednesday’s organizational meeting would not be streamed online, as other advisory and committee meetings are not streamed. After this story appeared on tampabay.com, communications director Barbra Hernandez said the meeting will be streamed on the county’s YouTube channel.
In addition to Aungst, the redistricting board members are insurance agency owner Mary Louise Ambrose, community activist Johnny Boykins, NAACP St. Petersburg branch president Esther Eugene, insurance agency owner James P. Everett, former Dunedin city commissioner Bruce Livingston, leadership gift officer Allison Nall, retired geospatial scientist Karen Owen, financial technology executive Christian D. Ruppel, commercial real estate director Ron Schultz and retired pilot Mark Weinkrantz.
Many of the members have been involved in civic and political groups.
“The time-consuming part of projects like these is not drawing a map,” Spitzer said. “The time-consuming part is drawing an idea and then getting reaction to it from the public and the redistricting board and County Commission and then maybe making adjustments and building consensus.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: The first Pinellas County Redistricting Board meeting
WHEN: 6 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Magnolia Room in the Pinellas County UF/IFAS Extension located at the Florida Botanical Gardens, 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo.