By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Gainesville council considers minorities under redistricting
School board wants to discuss lines, demographics, attorney says
Placeholder Image

As the Gainesville City Council looks to move forward with new redistricting maps, minority representation is key in their minds.

At a City Council work session Thursday, attorney Drew Whalen said he believed the maps would be acceptable for preclearance before the Department of Justice.

"I feel like we have a defensible plan, a proposed plan to argue."

The proposed lines significantly alter black and Hispanic populations within the wards. They also shift the population out of Ward 4 and into Wards 1, 2, and 3.

School board attorney Phil Hartley told council members the school board wanted to meet with reapportionment consultant Linda Meggers to discuss the redistricting lines and demographics.

Whalen provided a minority demographics chart that showed Hispanics would be the majority in Wards 3, 4, and 5 on the proposed map.

The charts were created according to 2010 census information.

Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said the board members need time to discuss the changes and make sure all of their constituents are well represented within their wards.

"They want to be sure that they have given adequate time and can assure their constituents that they have done their due diligence in recommending a map," she said.

School board members are elected within their districts, while council members are elected at-large. Board members first saw the maps on July 20.

School board member Delores Diaz represents Ward 4, which has a decreasing number of black residents and increasing number of Hispanic residents. Diaz is concerned about the voting strength of these groups, she said.

"I want to take a look at demographics, how minority populations are divided," she said. "I want to know what impact that might have on minority voters."

City Clerk Denise Jordan and attorney Drew Whalen presented the proposed maps last week, which included significant shifts in population and demographics.

Ward 3, represented by Willie Mitchell on the school board and Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras, has been home to a large percentage of black residents in Gainesville.

As minority populations become less condensed to one portion of the city, demographics will inevitably change, said Drew Whalen, legal counsel for City Council who helped create the new maps.

The new maps were drawn with minority residents in mind, particularly the black population in Figueras's ward.

While the percentage of black residents in Ward 3 dropped by about 9 percentage points, Whalen said the proposed districts are as fairly drawn as possible for black voters.

The proposed map will double the percentage of Hispanics in Ward 5, represented by Ruth Bruner. Bruner's seat is up for election Nov. 8.

The proposed maps must be submitted to the Department of Justice as part of the Voting Rights Act to make sure the lines don't weaken the strength of minority votes.

This is the first redistricting in which Hispanics are protected under the Voting Rights Act, Whalen said.

"It's a new experience," he said.

Hispanics make up 34.6 percent of Gainesville residents 18 and older but just 7.5 percent of registered voters.

"I think we just need to be mindful of that," Whalen said during the council meeting. "I don't know how all of it is going to fare as far as preclearance. I hope we're going to be successful, certainly, but I think we'll just continue to watch and see what develops there," he said.

Councilman George Wangemann, whose ward would be cut from 10,474 people to 6,621, said he approved of the changes to his ward if it made the other wards equal.

"What's most important to me is that the wards are drawn out in a balanced manner," he said.