The press release appeared at first to be an elected official’s call for transparency.
On Tuesday, after the Tampa Bay Times reported that the first meeting of the Pinellas County Redistricting Board would not be video recorded, State Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, blasted the county’s decision.
But he used the opportunity to call out commission chairperson Dave Eggers, a fellow Republican, who is up for reelection in November 2022.
“The Pinellas County administrator should reverse course and allow for full transparency,” Latvala stated in the press release of the redistricting board process. “If he doesn’t, I call on the county commission chair to step in and do the right thing for all of our residents.”
Latvala, who is term-limited from the state House next year, already announced he will run in 2024 for Pinellas County Commission District 5, when incumbent Republican commissioner Karen Seel said she plans to leave office after 25 years in the seat.
But when the Times asked Latvala on Tuesday whether he intends to run against Eggers, given the dig in his press release, Latvala did not rule it out.
“The current redistricting process may change how the districts are drawn and thus change where I decide to run,” Latvala told the Times in an email. “The new districts will be finalized early next year and if I decide to change districts I expect to make an announcement around that time.”
The 11-member citizen redistricting board will use U.S. Census data to evaluate the seven commission districts for any adjustments due to population shifts over the past decade. The board will submit maps to the commission by December for approval.
Eggers said he plans to run for a third term in District 4, which covers North Pinellas County. He has so far not drawn any official challengers. In an interview Wednesday, he said “there’s too much work that needs to be done” to worry about Latvala’s potential challenge.
“I’ve always been dedicated to constituents in north county and I really haven’t shopped districts ever before,” Eggers said, nodding to Latvala’s potential seat switch. “If that’s in play, there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Eggers is part of the commission that drew deep criticism from anti-mask residents for the 11-month face covering mandate enacted in June 2020 to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Eggers defends his support of the mandate, saying he was acting in the interest of public safety as the pandemic ravaged the county.
Conservative residents appeared at commission meetings for months in large numbers before the mandate was rescinded in May to condemn what they described as an attack on personal freedoms.
Latvala has been a staunch supporter of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ COVID-19 policies, which have taken aim at local governments that enacted public safety mandates. Latvala was hospitalized twice with the virus last year.
Latvala has also been a booster of Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, whose district overlaps Eggers’ north Pinellas commission territory.
Only District 6 commissioner Kathleen Peters, a Republican also up for reelection in 2022, voted against the county mask mandate in June 2020. Pinellas rescinded its mask mandate in May after DeSantis issued an executive order that immediately lifted local governments’ COVID-19 restrictions.
Eggers said much of the County Commission’s work involves critical, non-partisan issues: taking care of infrastructure, supporting economic development, improving the reclaimed water program.
“I am keenly aware of the political issues out there, and the partisanship that exists,” Eggers said. “The principals of the Republican party, I certainly have supported all my life. It’s about smaller government, and pro-business and public safety, mental health access. This is who I am.”
Before being elected to the commission in 2014, Eggers served on the Dunedin City Commission for 11 years, the last five as mayor.
After the Times’ story about the redistricting appeared on tampabay.com on Tuesday, which noted the first organizational meeting on Wednesday would not be video recorded, communications director Barbra Hernandez said the meeting would be streamed on the county’s YouTube channel.
Hernandez said the meeting initially was not going to be recorded because the county does not stream most advisory boards and committees.
Eggers said he was not sure why the meeting was not initially going to be streamed. He said he believed the board this week would have decided to stream subsequent meetings going forward.
But he defended his record of advocating for transparency.