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Lee County Commissioner Board Meeting (9/7) Recap

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By: Tyler Watkins

Hoping to avoid the same results of Lee County’s 2011 redistricting, residents of a primarily Black Fort Myers neighborhood told the Lee County commission Tuesday to listen to minority communities and avoid a repeat of gerrymandering when setting new districts for representation.

Citizens pleaded with the board to remember proper representation of all voters. The board will hold public meetings on redistricting later this fall.

Carolyn Norris, the President of the Lee County Democratic Black Caucus, opened the discussion by advocating for a citizen’s advisory committee whose objective is to provide ideas, feedback and input into the redistricting of Lee County.

“Drawing the political boundary lines and maps for districts in Lee County without the input of its citizens may diminish voters’ voices on issues they care most about,” Norris said. “As a voter in Lee County, I would like to think that we honor an egalitarian process where voters select politicians, rather than politicians that may reconfigure boundaries to select voters.”

Florida state law requires each county to meet every 10 years for redistricting after the U.S. Census. According to Lee County Commissioners, the goal of redistricting is to assess or adjust each district’s population so that no single district has substantially more residents in it.

Speakers following Norris condemned the board’s past actions as “gerrymandering” and “diluting” the Dunbar community, making it impossible for minority candidates to get elected.

Audrea Anderson, a former member of the Florida Board of Regents, called for the commissioners to obey the 2010 Fair Districts Florida Fifth and Sixth Amendments.

Amendment five amended the practice of drawing legislative district boundaries to create fairness and equality in population as feasible through county boundaries. Amendment six made it unlawful for districting plans drawn to favor or disfavor political parties, racial or language minorities.

“When you mute their voices you lose a vital link to the constituents you took an oath to serve,” Anderson said. “We respectfully request that the Lee County redistricting process and result abide by the fair and clear criteria of amendments five and six.”

The four public meetings on the redistricting process will take place on Oct. 5, Nov. 2, Nov. 16, and Dec. 7. The commission will gather information and submit it to the state legislature for the final decision on redistricting.

Another topic discussed in the meeting included the motion to carry a $12 million per year marketing fund for the Tourist Development Council (TDC). All five commissioners voted to approve the funding plan. The TDC provided large payoffs for Lee County’s funds as visitors spent $3.3 billion in 2019. The TDC expects its 2021 revenue projections to exceed its 2019 earnings.

The next Lee Board of Commissioners meeting is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, September 21.

This story was produced by Democracy Watch, a news service of the Journalism degree at Florida Gulf Coast University. The reporter can be reached at thwatkins6596@fgcu.edu.