A public hearing for the Plan 7 proposed redistricting map is set for Thursday, March 21.
St. Petersburg City Councilors unanimously approved setting a public hearing date at last week's council meeting. Council has until May 12 to complete redistricting. A nine-person redistricting commission voted 5-4 last month for Plan 7 and presented that last week.
On Thursday, a lengthy debate about the impact of redistricting on incumbents and the upcoming election broke out after Nick Finzer, the campaign manager for city council candidate Dr. David McKalip, read a statement pointing at a system aimed at keeping incumbents in office and stated he moved in order to run in November.
"Dr. McCaleb asks that you unanimously reject the proposal of the commission as it does not follow the law on compactness and subordinated this primary objective of redistricting to protecting the seats of incumbent council members. You should be aware that the commission was misinformed on several occasions that they were required to keep incumbents in their seat based on the opinion of the city staff and legal department." Finzer read.
The statement added, "The commissioners were denied review of a map by council chair Dr. Lucas."
"These maps are not valid, protect incumbents at the expense of other more important criteria and divide neighborhoods. This council should do the right thing and unanimously reject these maps." Finzer read.
The statement also announced that Dr. McKalip has taken up residence in a new district to ensure he will be able to run for office in November. Under Plan 7, McKalip would be drawn out of District 4, forcing him off the ballot.
At the meeting, Council Member Steve Kornell said he had a real problem with the idea of staff not allowing the redistricting commission to view a map. "My problem is going to be with staff who said no to that map, if indeed that was a legal map." Kornell said. He called for council to discuss this at a workshop, which Councilor Leslie Curran eventually made a motion to have later in the meeting. As a result, council will hold a workshop at a future date. They hope to have it within 30 days.
During the discussion, council was advised that if a councilor were drawn out of a district, he or she would be removed from council upon the approval of the new map. This concern had not been brought up until now because this was the first time a public commission decided the maps and not council, officials said.
St. Pete resident Matt Florell addressed council and said that the redistricting council made several suggestions about the process and those suggestions should be included in the future process. Florell said they should start the redistricting process earlier and allow councilors who may be drawn out of their districts to finish their terms.
"More flexibility should be allowed to split county voting precincts to allow for more compact districts and for neighborhoods split by precinct boundaries to possibly be kept together," Floral added.
Due to the concerns brought forward councilors unanimously agreed to discuss the issue further in a workshop and to allow public comment on Thursday, March 21 at City Hall.
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