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Lee County Commissioners move forward with disputed redistricting map

Lee County Redistricting during Board of County Commissioners meeting on Nov 17.PNG
At the public hearing on November 17, 2021, the Lee Board of County Commissioners adopted Map Alternative 5. (Pictured left to right) District 5 Commissioner Frank Mann, District 4 Commissioner Brian Hamman, District 1 Commissioner Kevin Ruane, District 2 Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass, and District 3 Commissioner Ray Sandelli listen to public comment.

With a 3-2 vote, Lee County Commissioners formally adopted new county district maps Tuesday, despite cries from the public to reconsider their choice. It’s a choice that some say could result in Lee County’s redistricting process winding up in federal court.

Community members are still calling for the reunification of the historically Black Dunbar community with The City of Fort Myers, after it was mostly moved into another district a decade ago.

Posey, Jennifer
At the public hearing on November 2, 2021 the Lee Board of County Commissioners voted for Map Alternative 5.

Residents spoke out at the commission hearing Tuesday, claiming the commissioners are continuing to suppress minority voices and representation by choosing a district map that keeps portions of Dunbar in the Cape Coral District 4.

Resident Gerri Ware had this to say to commissioner Cecile Pendergrass:

“I don’t know why you’re adamant about Dunbar being over and across that river," said Ware. "Mr. Pendergrass, you’ve been appointed to lead this organization. I appeal to you all to be fair. But I pray today that you reconsider and consider Mr. Hammonds map, because it considered everybody.”

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Lee County resident Gerri Ware voices her concerns during the public comment portion of the redistricting agenda item.

Impassioned comments continued surrounding the fate of District 4.

Jen Scuteri is an attorney and board member with the Sanibel League of Women Voters. During public comment, she said the commissioners were making a decision she called “illegal” by not following the outlined criteria used to guide changes to district lines. She says just by looking at the map, gerrymandering and diluting the minority population are obvious.

Jen Scuteri, attorney and board member with the Sanibel League of Women Voters.
Jen Scuteri, attorney and board member with the Sanibel League of Women Voters, voices her concerns during the public comment portion of the redistricting agenda item.

“So, before you confirm your vote for Map 5, I leave you with this challenge," said Scuteri. "Which of you will be willing to ask the County attorney which map alternative, map 5 or 7, is better for representation of the eight redistricting criteria? Which of the two maps most closely follows the law?”

According to the Lee County redistricting website, specific criteria, drawn from case law precedents and common redistricting practices, are used to guide changes to the commission district boundary lines. The redistricting alternative that is selected should adhere to the following criteria as closely as possible:

• An equal population distribution
• Compact boundaries
• Alignment with Census geography
• Boundaries that follow prominent physical features
• Limited splitting of established neighborhoods
• Similar boundaries to existing districts
• Avoided packing and diluting minority population
• Considered population growth for future population equity

Alternative Map 5, which changes less than 14 square miles of district boundaries across the county, was adopted during a public hearing on November 2.

When it came time to make a motion to lawfully adopt Map 5 at Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners Frank Mann and Brian Hamman voted against it, as they had on November 2.

District 4 Commissioner Hamman says that despite this disagreement, he will do whatever he can to serve the county.

“I do continue to disagree with the way District 4 is shaped," said Hamman. "I disagree with the splitting of Fort Myers. I disagree with the fact that it does not follow prominent physical features as well. So, I am not going to support the motion today that’s on the floor. But I want to also put on the record that while I’m not supporting the motion today, if District 4 remains configured the way that it appears it will be, I am here to be your public servant and your district commissioner.”

On December 7, Lee County Commissioners will vote to lawfully adopt the final map and certify the selection to the Secretary of State.