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Community gets involved in county redistricting process

Jun 2nd, 2011 | 0

By DOTTY NIST

Although not yet settling on one redistricting map, the Walton County Redistricting Committee members have narrowed their choices to three prospective map proposals.

The decision took place at the committee’s May 25 meeting at the Freeport Community Center, their third session since starting their task of developing recommendations for the redistricting of the county on April 6. The committee had also held an organizational meeting prior to that time.

In terms of attendance, there was a sharp contrast. Only a few of citizens had been present for the previous two meetings, but approximately 40 members of the public showed up for the May meeting. Several committee members expressed their appreciation for the excellent public turnout.

Ken Little, coordinator for the committee on behalf of the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC), explained that the committee’s task, in accordance with Florida law, is to recommend district boundaries that would make district populations as nearly equal in size as possible, based on newly obtained 2010 census numbers. Committee members had been appointed by the BCC and school board.

Walton County’s population had increased by 14,443 residents since the last 10-year census, bringing the county population to 55,043. The situation facing the committee had been four districts with numbers below the perfect split number of 11,009 and one district, District 5, exceeding ideal split number by almost 45 percent.

Since 2000, District 1 has included the area of south Walton County east of U.S. 331, with District 5 consisting only of  land south of the bay and west of U.S. 331. However, the area south of the bay is still 4,000 residents short of a population large enough for two districts located totally within south Walton County.

Little listed traditional criteria for drawing up districts, which consist of compactness, contiguity, respect for political subdivisions such as municipalities, respect for “communities of interest”, maintenance of cores of prior districts, protection of incumbents, and compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

He introduced a series of redistricting maps that the committee had reviewed, commenting on the advantages and disadvantages of each. “It’s a difficult task to come up with a perfect solution,” he told attendees.

“Census block lines are the big issue,” said committee member Ronnie Bell. He explained that it is necessary to respect these lines and avoid splitting blocks when setting up districts. He also noted that it would be unlikely that the commissioners and school board members would vote for a plan that would take them out of their district, making them ineligible to run for office again in the district of their residence.

Bell said he was “tickled” to have so many citizens attend the meeting. “Usually we’re lucky to get three or four,” he said.

Bell explained that the committee would be presenting its recommendation to the BCC and the Walton County School Board, who would decide whether to approve the recommendation or not—or to possibly go with a different plan.

Bell commented that at the committee’s May 4 meeting in Santa Rosa Beach, the members had expressed willingness to vote to select Map 3D.

“We were gravitating toward 3D,” agreed Jim Rester, committee chairman.

Map 3D extends District 4 south across the Choctawhatchee Bay into part of what is currently District 5, splitting Miramar Beach between those two districts. Among other changes, it also establishes District 5 as a “beach district” beginning south of Scenic Gulf Drive in Miramar beach and extending all the way to Inlet Beach south of U.S. 98.

A number of attendees expressed opposition to Map 3D. Miramar Beach and Sandestin residents in attendance said they would not favor their community being divided between districts.

Sandestin resident Robin Wiesneth requested that the community be respected, particularly since it has existed for 35 years. “Just visually it does not look great,” she said of Map 3D. She did thank the committee for their work and observe that they had “some great ideas.”

Wiesneth also said she was not sure putting all the beach area under one district was advisable, since the beaches on the west end are “very different” from those along CR-30A and there is a difference in their stage of development.

Holiday Road resident Mike Judkins did not like the proposal because it would put him a long way from his commissioner’s office in Freeport. He was of the opinion that Miramar Beach should remain the same with regard to districting.

Eastern Lake resident Brenda Rees was also in opposition to Map 3D. After the committee’s May 4 meeting, Rees had drawn up her own map proposal at the Walton County Geographical Information Service (GIS) office. She told the committee members that she had focused on respect for district cores, respect for communities of interest, and keeping historic communities within the same district—and had avoided splitting up Sandestin into different districts. She was against extending District 4 across the bay, and her plan did not call for doing that….

Read the full story in the June 2, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.

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