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Lee redistricting plan gets another tweak

By Staff | Oct 15, 2011

Lee County is again reworking the proposed redistricting plan after another local community voiced opposition about being split between districts.

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners was scheduled to vote on the proposal – Alternative 6 – at Tuesday’s meeting, but the NAACP took issue with Districts 2 and 4 sharing the Dunbar community in Fort Myers.

District 4 covers north Cape Coral and a portion of North Fort Myers.

District 2 consists of downtown Fort Myers and central Fort Myers.

“They felt that Alternative 6 split the neighborhoods inside Fort Myers, the Dunbar neighborhood,” Rick Burris, a principal planner for the county, said.

“They felt that they would rather see if we could keep their community within one commission district,” he said.

After each U.S. Census, Florida law and Lee County’s charter require that the county be divided into districts as nearly equal in proportion to population as possible. The 2010 census revealed Lee County’s population as 618,754.

Based on that figure, the target population per district is 123,751.

The census found that the county’s five districts ranged from 171,064 people – 38 percent over the target number – to 94,635 – 23 percent under it. Districts 3 and 4 came the closest, with 120,976 and 120,663.

Burris explained that using census block data, county staffers reworked district lines in an attempt to get as close as possible to the target number in each district, while also using more recognizable geographic boundaries.

County staff worked through several proposals before coming up with Alternative 6. Two proposed maps were eliminated at a management and planning meeting, and three others were scratched at a public hearing.

According to Burris, the island communities would have been split between districts in a few of those proposals, and they wanted to stay together. The Estero community also voiced opposition to being divided between districts.

So, when the NAACP raised its concerns Tuesday about Dunbar, county staffers went back to the drawing board to work on Alternative 8.

“We’re basically trying to incorporate the entire Dunbar community,” he said. “We’re keeping other communities intact and moving boundaries, so the Dunbar community stays together under one commissioner.”

Burris explained that the NAACP provided a proposal to the commission Tuesday – Alternative 7 – but the population totals in the districts would not have hit that target number. They ranged from 103,706 to 151,883.

For Alternative 8, county staff are toying with placing Dunbar completely in District 4 or pushing the community farther south into District 2. Burris said the challenge is recognizing and not messing up the surrounding communities.

“The NAACP realizes that and are not asking us to do that,” he said.

The Lee County Branch of the NAACP could not be reached for comment.

The District 4 seat is held by Commissioner Tammy Hall.

Commissioner Brian Bigelow holds the District 2 seat.

“There are many more communities in Lee County. Dunbar is certainly one,” he said. “The NAACP is making the argument that their community should be treated no less importantly than Matlacha, Pine Island and Estero.”

He voiced support for keeping together communities that wish to stick together if they can be accommodated. Bigelow added that he suggested once that the entire community of San Carlos Park be put in District 2.

“If we’re going to do this and step back,” he said. “Maybe what we do is we look for other communities that are being divided by a district line.”

County commissioners and school board members must live in the district in which they run. They are elected at-large, however, meaning they are elected countywide.

County staffers are hoping to have Alternative 8 worked out by next week. According to Burris, there has to be time to make sure the communities are happy with it. The aim is to have the commission vote on the plan on Nov. 1.

He explained that after a redistricting proposal is adopted, the changes must run in two consecutive advertisements. This must be done before year’s end.

If a plan is not approved before the end of the year, the redistricting would have to be put on hold because of the county’s election cycle, Burris said.