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Citizens meetings set as county redistricting gets underway

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South County residents get their first crack at helping redraw local representation boundary lines next week.

By MELODY JAMESON

With one of Hillsborough County’s largest, most growth oriented commission districts touching many of them, South County residents get their first crack at helping redraw local representation boundary lines next week.

One of two citizen meetings on county commission redistricting is scheduled in the South County on Wednesday (May 11). The session will get underway at 6:30 PM in the SouthShore Regional Services Center, 410 30th Street, immediately north of SunPoint Plaza.

A second meeting is set for 10 AM, Thursday, June 2, in Sun City Center’s Community Hall on South Pebble Beach Boulevard.

The two sessions are among 10 scheduled around the county during May and June as new population figures produced by the 2010 census are taken into consideration and the subsequent required reapportionment in Hillsborough’s four commission districts is undertaken in keeping with the county’s charter, Edith Stewart, director of client services for the county, said this week.

Under Hillsborough’s charter – its organizing and governing constitution - four of the county’s seven commission seats are held by district commissioners, each a representative from one of four districts. The remaining three seats are taken by successful candidates elected on a county-wide basis, each representing the entire county. Commission terms – normally four years – are filled through elections conducted on a staggered basis so an entire board does not turn over at the same time.

South Hillsborough hosts two commission districts, 1 and 4. District 1, which represents a large part of municipal Tampa bordering upper Tampa Bay, also includes a long, comparatively narrow strip parallel with the bay’s eastern shore and therefore encompasses the South County communities of Gibsonton, Apollo Beach, Ruskin and Sun City.

District 4, on the other hand, includes communities east of I-75, such as Riverview, Balm, Wimauma, Sun City Center/Kings Point and Sundance. In addition, the sprawling district involves incorporated Plant City and the multiple unincorporated communities around it, from Knights-Griffin on the north to Keysville and Welcome on the south, plus Valrico, Brandon, Progress Village, and the Lithia/Fishhawk sections. Geographically, District 4 takes in a significant chunk of the 1,000-square-mile county and now is one of two districts credited with substantial population increases. The other is massive District 2 taking in all of north Tampa as well as the northern reaches of the county.

Current configuration of District 1, where the census puts the population increase at just a shade under 14 percent, is not likely to be radically altered in its general shape but could expand somewhat to take in more population, Stewart indicated this week. District 4, however, where the population increase tops 100,000 or more than 40 percent, may be another matter.

Among the influencing factors could be District 3, representing inner city Tampa and which boundary lines are deliberately drawn to create a “minority district” complying with the U.S. Voting Rights Act. In this way, it is considered more likely a minority representative can be elected. One theory of redistricting in 2011 is that a portion of present District 4 – perhaps from the greater Riverview area - be shifted to 3 through redrawn boundaries.

The objective of reapportionment every 10 years, based on results of the decennial census, is even, as-balanced-as-possible population numbers in each of the four districts, Stewart emphasized. And the challenge, she added, is to accomplish this purpose without detracting or subtracting from a minority district in violation of the federal law.

In addition to creating districts with equal populations and one maintained to maximize opportunity for election of a minority candidate, they are to be drawn in as compact a form as possible and are to be contiguous, Stewart pointed out .

At each of the forthcoming public meetings, the programs will begin with short video presentations which overview the redistricting process and objectives, Stewart noted. Citizens also will be presented with maps that demonstrate different reapportionment options pertinent to their districts, she added, and given opportunity to express their views and preferences regarding the potential new districts.

While redistricting on any level – local, state or national – sometimes becomes a battleground as elected officials attempt to safeguard their territories to ensure re-election or for their favored political party, the commission process in 2011 has not been left to the decision making of four sitting – and potentially affected - commissioners. Unlike previous reapportionment efforts in Hillsborough, this year it has been designed by a task force comprised of administrative, cartographic, statistical, automation, equal opportunity, community liaison and planning personnel, plus representatives of the Supervisor of Elections and the County Attorney. And the computer-assisted analysis of data utilizes several highly sophisticated software programs specifically designed for the purpose, Stewart said.

Following the last community meeting, two public hearings in County Center, Tampa, are slated – one on June 9 and another on June 20. Adoption of the final redistricting plan is expected at that last June hearing.

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson

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