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Public calls for more inclusion during the second Lee County redistricting hearing

Lee County Board of County Commissioners during public comment at the October 19 redistricting meeting.jpg
Tara Calligan
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 about Lee County redistricting from Fredrick Dunbar Morgan, II, Chair Political Action Committee, NAACP Lee County. “We the NAACP reject all five Lee County redistricting maps and maps 6a and 6b as discriminatory."

Tuesday, October 19th was the second public hearing on redistricting in Lee County. Every 10 years local governments use new census data to redraw district lines in an effort to better reflect how the populations have changed over that decade. The redistricting process can affect representation and funding for government initiatives in each of the five Lee County districts.

The board room was full of concerned citizens wanting to voice their apprehension and provide suggestions on how Lee County Commissioners can better serve them throughout the redistricting process.

One of the many concerns is the time of this particular meeting.
Stephanie House, Lehigh Acres resident, during public comment

Stephanie House is a resident of Lehigh Acres who says she attended the meeting because she believes the minority community is not being represented in this decision making process.

“Those that are gainfully employed are not here at 9:30 in the morning," said House. "This is not convenient for the whole community. If you really want the community to be involved, have some of these meetings at 6:00 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 7:00 p.m. No, you can not have virtual meetings, because everybody doesn’t have broadband or computer access. You’re not really involving the whole community in these meetings.”

A third public hearing about Lee County redistricting is scheduled for Tuesday, November 2 at 6 p.m. Brian Hamman, Lee County Commissioner for District 4, says this will likely be the only evening meeting scheduled.

The lack of fair, accountable representation has real world consequences for the people living in Dunbar, Lehigh Acres and surrounding areas.
Mike Love, Director of Economic Development for Lee County NAACP, during public comment

At Tuesday’s hearing, Hamman proposed a new redistricting map of his own creation that he says takes citizens’ concerns into consideration.

“With this being our second public hearing, I tried to really pay good attention to what was brought up at the first public hearing," said Hamman, "All of the concerns that the community was bringing us, and so, I tried to take everything that I heard and put it into a map that I think will serve Lee County the best going forward into our future. And this would be a map that wouldn’t split up communities.”

Commissioner Hamman says that the next public hearing on November 2nd at 6 p.m. will focus on reviewing seven proposed maps, taking public comments, and narrowing down the redistricting map options for a fourth public hearing on Tuesday, November 16th.

He adds that Lee County residents wanting to know more about redistricting can visit LeeGov.com to get more information, view and interact with the proposed maps, or to email county commissioners directly.

A process that normally takes 10 months is being condensed to 4 this year, according to Lee County’s website, because the Census Bureau released the data extremely late this cycle, and because redistricting is to be considered in odd-numbered years. The final meeting for Lee County will take place this December.

Janice Cass is a native of Fort Myers and Co-founder of the Lee County Black History Society. She came to this meeting with a group that was dressed in all black to show what she says is, “solidarity” for the Black community.

"A sign of solidarity that we're on the same page together," said Cass.

"And that we’ve been kind of like, this is my perspective, that we’ve kind of been kind of like in mourning. Because we know that we are banging our heads up against the wall. But when we look to where we’ve come from -- because I remember growing up in this community when this building itself was a formidable building, when it was the County courthouse, because I mean, little to no justice was levied out to Black citizens during that period of time.”

Cass says she hopes to see more community involvement as the redistricting process moves forward and that the Commissioners really hear the public’s voices.

“To see the commissioners respond to us, and say, ‘Okay. We care. We’re listening. We’re going to do something," said Cass. "We're not going to ignore you and say 'okay, we’ve listened but that’s not going to work.’”

Lee County Board of County Commissioners  October 19 meeting.jpg
Tara Calligan
View from the balcony during the Lee County Board of County Commissioners October 19 meeting.

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