Manatee County residents will have still another opportunity to weigh in publicly on future county commission and school board district boundaries before the issue goes to a final vote. Next Tuesday (Nov. 15), school board members will meet with the BOCC to discuss the boundaries during a joint workshop at 11 a.m. in the Manatee Room on the fourth floor of the Manatee County Administrative Building at 1112, Manatee Ave. West in downtown Bradenton.
On Oct. 25, the Manatee County Commission voted to move forward in redrawing BOCC boundaries with a proposal dubbed "Plan D". The set of maps seem to balance district populations (within 4,500 people of each other, which is very close considering our size), without really altering demographics in a meaningful way.
The districts also seem to have more concise and community-driven boundaries. District 2, which was originally drawn in an effort to favor African-American candidates in compliance with the section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, against the threat of an NAACP lawsuit, has seen more diversification and would now seem to reflect an urban/metro district among what are largely more rural ones, which would seem ideal considering the plethora of concerns that are unique to each.
The most promising aspect of redistricting is the idea that the school board and the county commission would use the same districts. I can think of nothing that would do more to make voter participation at the local level more likely than creating common districts that would heighten resident awareness of their representatives and make it easier for multiple representatives to hold common forums in their communities in which residents can more easily come together to voice shared concerns.
Local elections have a profound impact on the quality of life of area residents, arguably even more so than federal or even state races. Unfortunately, citizen awareness as to who their elected officials are, especially at a local level, is terribly low and the fact that there are multiple districts for various offices obviously contributes to that. Making it easier for residents to identify their actual communities with their series of elected representatives is the best way to plant the seeds of an engaged community.
Consolidating districts for county offices and making them more reflective of actual neighborhoods would be a key step in that process. I think that if the respective boards can manage these proposed improvements, Manatee County will be moving in the right direction. As shrinking budgets necessitate more changes to public services, it is more important than ever that citizens be part of the decision-making process and anything leaders can do to make that more likely is progress.
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