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Frustration on redistricting leads city commission to ask for meeting with Supervisor of Elections before deciding on new districts

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At their March 17 meeting, the Gainesville City Commission discussed options for drawing new city commission districts based on the 2020 census and expressed frustration with the legislature and sympathy with a short-staffed Supervisor of Elections before deciding to ask the Supervisor to meet with them before they draw their final maps.

The consultants hired by the City from the University of Florida, Dr. Michael McDonald and Dr. Daniel Smith, said they had met with the Supervisor of Elections since their last presentation to the city commission, and Supervisor Kim Barton told them she intends to draw new precincts that conform with the new state legislative districts because the new legislative districts split some of the existing precincts. They said Barton also preferred that the new city commission districts not split precincts because it costs her office extra money to create two different city commission ballots for one precinct. 

The consultants also said that Barton has “not really started on reprecincting” because she “has had severe staffing attrition.” The consultant had the sense that Alachua County is not a high priority for Barton’s redistricting consultant, who is working for multiple counties across the state. 

“We are conforming to the House map, which is a gerrymander, there’s no question about it. But it’s doing so in order to help the electability of an African-American on the east side of Gainesville.” – Dr. Daniel Smith

McDonald said that when the legislature drew the new State House District 21, “they were trying to draw that district to help an African-American candidate choice for District 21… The legislature came in and carved out the white areas… that are to the east of the campus there.” He said there would likely have to be a new “pretty ugly” precinct in that area to accommodate the new legislative lines. Smith said the new legislative lines would help “with respect to your goals of being able to have a District 1 that… has now even a higher percentage of black-voting-age population than our concept map, and that’s because we are conforming to the House map, which is a gerrymander, there’s no question about it. But it’s doing so in order to help the electability of an African-American on the east side of Gainesville.”

The City had asked the consultants to come back because of concerns with splitting the Stephen Foster neighborhood and the proposed inclusion of the Duck Pond neighborhood in District 1 (the previous map can be seen here). They brought a new map for the commission to consider:

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“[Supervisor Barton] used language like ‘I don’t like being pushed around by the city commission,’ that sort of language.” – Dr. Michael McDonald

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said he didn’t think they should draw their districts based on gerrymandered State House and Senate seats. McDonald said Barton had not worked on redistricting yet, but that she indicated she would follow the legislative districts; he said she was “resistant” to splitting precincts to accommodate the redistricting preferences of the city commission. “She used language like ‘I don’t like being pushed around by the city commission,’ that sort of language.” McDonald said the maps need to get to the newspaper for publication by April 17, and he hoped the supervisor would have new precincts by mid-April, but he wasn’t sure. He told the commission that if they want “to go a different way… you’re going to open up a huge can of worms here, and it’s going to be really difficult to put all of those worms back in the can.”

“Let’s not fall into the trap of trying to make districts that conform with what I believe to be unconstitutional districts from Tallahassee.” – Commissioner David Arreola

Commissioner David Arreola said he didn’t “want our decisions to be based on what I believe to be the fault of the legislature… let’s not fall into the trap of trying to make districts that conform with what I believe to be unconstitutional districts from Tallahassee.”

Commissioner Harvey Ward said they might regret “jump[ing] into an approval.” He said he didn’t want to split precincts and that he preferred waiting until after the August elections to have more “voter data.” The consultants pointed out that if the City sticks with the existing (2010) districts, they will be splitting precincts, anyway, “because the supervisor is going to draw the new precincts to conform with the state legislative districts.” Ward still thought they didn’t have enough information to make “the right decisions” that day.

“I appreciate the legislature for maintaining the legacy seat in District 1. I mean, I know their game. I know why they did it. Pack all the blacks in one place, and then you don’t have to worry and you can then draw the other seats like you want to.” – Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut also said she would not be comfortable voting that day, plus “[the supervisor is] really going to drive this ship… and she’s already told us she’s going to follow the legislature… we really can’t fight it… I appreciate the legislature for maintaining the legacy seat in District 1. I mean, I know their game. I know why they did it. Pack all the blacks in one place, and then you don’t have to worry and you can then draw the other seats like you want to.” She preferred waiting until after the November election to draw the maps. 

McDonald said they didn’t have to make a decision until April 7. Chestnut made a motion to request a meeting between Supervisor Barton and the city commission by March 28. Poe suggested meeting with Barton before March 28 and then setting the districts at a March 28 special meeting. He said he could represent the city commission at a meeting with Barton, City staff, and the two consultants. Chestnut asked if other commissioners could be present at that meeting, and Poe said it could be a workshop with no votes taken, so they would not need a quorum. Chestnut agreed to modify her motion to a workshop with Barton before March 28 and a special meeting on March 28 (the commission currently has a workshop scheduled on March 28; this would change it to a special meeting and add redistricting to the agenda).

The motion passed unanimously.

  • No matter how we try, we’ll always hear gripes. The 1960s Voting Rights Act demanded gerrymandering to guarantee Black representation. Has that expired yet? It coincidentally helps GOP suburbs, a classic Catch-22. But the Duck Pond are mostly 3% ruling elite Dems too.

  • I think it’s creepy that all the commissioners are still wearing face masks at the meetings…is this somehow
    Connected to taking Federal monies that have some
    Attachment to Covid? ( what did they call it, American
    Rescue funds??)…. did they not get their 2 Covid
    Shots & boosters? Didn’t Desantis say “employers couldn’t force you to wear a face mask” or something
    Like that? Are the commissioners all wearing face masks because of peer pressure? Are they going to
    Wear face masks the rest of their lives?

    • They are sick people. Only high risk people with
      Multiple co-morbidities need still wear them ..they
      Are either fear mongering or it’s a political statement.
      Only hypochondriacs, communists, control freaks, fascists, American Marxists, social justice
      Pushers, and criminals who want to hide their faces still wear them. The face mask for the Democratic socialists
      Is the equivalent of the MAGA hat for Trump supporters.

    • I thought Cynthia Chesnut was a smart independent woman who could think for herself…I was wrong. She’s
      Intimidated by her peers and going along with the liberal
      Herd. They didn’t like single member districts for the
      County but want to gerrymander district one in the city…Whatever
      Happened to judging a person by the content of their
      Character? Was Martin Luther King wrong? Pulling the race card is no way to win a debate.

      • I think she is just picking her battles. She didn’t wear a mask at a joint meeting a couple of weeks ago when one or two others were unmasked. She’ll have that broadband plan torn up and thrown in the trash before you know it.

      • Most of you give these disjointed, ignorant failures way too much credit. They want to make a big show of every issue us job one. After that, they’re like a live fish in a wet paper bag, just flopping around everywhere to see if something breaks loose because they are completely ignorant when it comes to governing even a small municipality. In short: a clown show.

  • Worried or afraid?

    …“it’s doing so in order to help the electability of an African-American on the east side of Gainesville.” – Dr. Daniel Smith

    Ward still thought they didn’t have enough information to make “the right decisions” that day. ~ Ward doesn’t have the common sense or intelligence to make any decision. I’m pretty sure he has to ask his family which pant’s leg to put his right foot in.

    Chestnut also said she would not be comfortable voting that day, plus “[the supervisor is] really going to drive this ship… and she’s already told us she’s going to follow the legislature… we really can’t fight it…” ~ She’s a genius, she figured out it’s the law. Not following the law worked out well for the school district didn’t it?

    Arreola said he didn’t “want our decisions to be based on what I believe to be the fault of the legislature… let’s not fall into the trap of trying to make districts that conform with what I believe to be unconstitutional districts from Tallahassee.” ~ He believes…who really gives a flying flip about what he believes?

    McDonald said of SOE Barton, “She used language like ‘I don’t like being pushed around by the city commission,’ that sort of language.” ~ Perhaps she knows what could happen should she disobey the law? She likes that 6 figure salary.

    Speaking of being pushed around by the city commission…who the hell does enjoy it? Welcome to the world of the residents who can see through the lies and deception of coty leadership.

    It can be summed up in on sentence. They’re afraid of losing power and they want to maintain the oppression they have over the predominantly black communities.

  • “They said Barton also preferred that the new city commission districts not split precincts because it costs her office extra money to create two different city commission ballots for one precinct.” How does it cost her office extra money?

    • Printing gets really cheap over about 2500 copies, usually. 5000 copies might only cost 20% more than 2500 copies. One print job of 5000 copies would be a lot cheaper than two jobs of 2500 each. Maybe that’s what she means.

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