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Manatee County Commission Approves Final Redistricting Map


BRADENTON — At a regular meeting Tuesday, the Manatee County Commission voted to approve a controversial finalized redistricting map in a 4-3 vote. 
Though more than 20 citizens appeared before the board to speak against the approval of Map B2 in Tuesday’s meeting—Map B2 is the draft map created by Commissioner George Kruse with the guidance of the county’s redistricting consultant, John Guthrie—the board advanced the map as the final redraw of Manatee County’s five representative districts. 
The redistricting process has been a messy one at times, with members of the public and commissioners expressing distrust, frustration, accusations of ulterior motives, and dismay with the process—or lack of process and transparency. 
Many of the public commenters at Tuesday’s meeting pleaded with the board to approve Map A1—a draft map that was created by the redistricting consultant based on feedback from each commissioner but was outvoted by the board in a previous meeting—instead of approving Map B2. Speakers argued that the latter was destructive to minority voters’ power to elect representatives of their choosing in District 2 and that it failed to create districts that would represent the interests of the county’s agricultural, urban core, and coastal land residents, respectively.
Map B2 was the most recent draft proposed to the board for consideration, a late entry into the process. It was based on draft Map B—a draft created by Commissioner Baugh—and offered some changes to improve the flawed balancing originally provided. Map B had failed to bring District 5 into a lesser voter population deviation to leave room for future growth that continues to outpace most of the other districts. 
However, Kruse’s proposed Map B2 also divided the urban core by splitting District 2, leaving the cities of Palmetto and Bradenton divided between Districts 2 and 3. This was a change that both the public and some commissioners expressed concern over. 
Map B2 also provides that a portion of Terra Ceia will remain in District 1, Commissioner Satcher’s district—an inclusion the commissioner negotiated for after he expressed a desire to retain the territory due to future aspirations to reside in the area. Map B2 also redraws Commissioner Servia’s District 4 further west to 75th Street, an area previously allotted to Kevin Van Ostenbridge’s District 3. District 3 will now include most of the coastal lands, though not to the degree that some commissioners and residents wanted in creating a "coastal district."  
"I think this was a very sophisticated strategy to dilute the minority vote," District 2 Commissioner Reggie Bellamy said. "It's actually coming to the forefront. Splitting up the urban core, I think it's been like that for the last 40 years maybe."
"I really believe we should defer to experts, and we hired an expert, a consultant, that we paid for with taxpayer dollars,” said Commissioner Misty Servia. "Because he is unbiased, he has done this for over 30 years, to do the best job he could do to help us to meet all the laws and our objectives. We’ve received hundreds of emails supporting that map.” 
Commissioner Kruse did not agree that his draft split the minority vote or was not in keeping with legal requirements to protect the minority vote of District 2. 
"We have honored the majority minorities in District 2," said Kruse. "We are a higher Democrat majority in District 2 than the school board is. We are lower Republican in every other district,” Kruse explained. 
But many from the public, including a representative of the Democratic party, as well as the secretary of the NAACP, were not swayed from their perspectives on the process or Map B2 itself. 
One speaker, Mark Vandre, said, "You open all your meetings with liberty and justice for all, but I do not see that right here. Commissioner Bellamy wasn’t given justice when he presented his C1 map. You all just kicked that to the curb without even looking at it, and I think you should be ashamed of that.” 
Map C1 was a draft map proposed but not reviewed or considered by the board. 
"I am a registered Republican," Vandre told the board, "And I vote." 
Shirley Pearson, Executive Director of Mt. Carmel Resource Center in Palmetto, requested that the board be more considerate of all the people of Manatee, not only a few. 
Alice Newlon, President of Manatee League of Women Voters—a nonpartisan organization—addressed the board, saying, "Redistricting began with what was promised to be the right process and goals…the process went totally off the rails when a completely different map was brought forward that clearly did not meet the originally stated goals."
Manatee County NAACP Secretary Susie Copeland also appeared before the board in Tuesday’s meeting, expressing both her disapproval of Map B2, as well as that of the NAACP. 
"This map I believe strongly was drawn very politically to diminish the Democratic voters in District 2, and turn it into a more Republican district," said Copeland.
The 4-3 vote to approve Map B2 was passed with commissioners Kruse, Satcher, Van Ostenbridge, and Baugh in support of the motion. Commissioners Servia, Bellamy, and Whitmore cast dissenting votes. 

Map B2 can be viewed on the county's website here


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