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Advisory committee kicks off redistricting process in Orange County with a January deadline

Instant Photo Poster
Dibya Sarkar

Managing Editor

Tuesday, September 21, 2021


Orange County

The current commission districts in Orange County.

An Orange County advisory panel kicked off the first in a series of public meetings Monday night with the aim of redrawing county commission district lines to account for massive population growth over the last decade.

The goal of redistricting is to ensure that the county’s six districts contain equal populations so all residents have an equally weighted vote and that each county commissioner represents roughly the same number of people.

The panel’s purpose is “to adjust the county boundaries in a fair, legal, transparent and expeditious fashion,” said retired lobbyist and Republican Hector Tico Perez, who co-chairs the 15-member Advisory Committee for Redistricting, alongside Democrat Camille Evans, a banking lawyer whose firm is located in Windermere.

Mayor Jerry Demings selected Evans and Perez to serve as co-chairs as well as Full Sail University President Garry Jones, who is the mayor’s representative. Each county commissioner selected two members to represent their districts.

Among the volunteers serving on the committee are: Zach Hoover, a Winter Garden resident who is manager of state/federal government affairs and public policy for Orlando Health hospital system, representing District 1; and Jason Mellen, an Ocoee resident who identified himself as a structural designer and vice chair for Ocoee Planning and Zoning Commission, representing District 2.

The advisory committee’s plan is to recommend a redrawn map to the Board of County Commissioners, which will have final say over a map, by Jan. 14, 2022. Between now and December, the committee is scheduled to hold 11 public meetings, including a public hearing to select at least one map. Meetings will be held in person as well as virtually on Facebook, Orange TV and the county’s YouTube channel.

Only two members of the public spoke up Monday, including a woman who identified herself as Tanya Hayes of Ocoee. With the city growing at a rapid rate, she said it’s “super important” to understand the redistricting process, in part to ensure that proper funds are being allocated to the city to help with road construction and traffic. “Car accidents have been a major thing just because we are growing faster than what we can keep up with as far as our traffic goes so that’s kind of been my main concern,” said Hayes.

Orange County’s population exploded over the last 10 years, growing by 25 percent to 1,429,908, according to the 2020 census.

It’s “now the sixth largest county in Florida for growth,” said Demings at the beginning of the advisory committee’s meeting. “We know with growth often comes challenges, one of which is trying to figure out how to redraw the county commission boundaries so that we can equalize the population and continue to represent everyone.”

The county is divided into six districts. District 1, which is represented by Nicole Wilson, encompasses Oakland, Windermere and Winter Garden and part of Ocoee. The other part of Ocoee lies in District 2, which is represented by Christine Moore.

After every decennial census, the county is required to redraw its six commission districts, each with an equal population, as practicable, according to the Florida Constitution and Orange County Charter.

Monday’s kickoff meeting presented a general overview of the advisory committee’s mission, how public records and “Sunshine” laws applied to members and factors it must consider when redrawing lines.

Cristina Berrios, assistant county attorney for Orange County, who will provide legal advice and guidance to the advisory committee, explained to the members that they should consider several factors in their work, such as federal laws that promote equal population of districts and prohibit discrimination and compliance with state and local contiguity requirements. She said members should also consider traditional redistricting principles, such as maintaining neighborhoods with common political interests, preserving municipal boundaries and others.

The only action that the committee took Monday was unanimously approving rules of procedure for how the committee will conduct itself and interact with residents. Some key points are:

  • The committee will attend most meetings on Monday nights from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. except one on Thursday, Dec. 9.

  • Members of the public are allowed  three minutes to comment during meetings, though if many people want to comment, time may be cut to two minutes..

  • Only committee members can present amended maps. If a resident wants the advisory panel to consider a map, it must be sent to a member.

  • Maptitude is the only redistricting software approved for redrawing maps. The Sept. 27 meeting will provide an in-depth tutorial and work session on how to use the software.

But Kelly Semrad, representing District 5 on the advisory committee, said she worried the mapping technology may not be accessible to all residents.

“I’m just concerned that we’re leaving out a really important chunk of our population with socioeconomic challenges where people don’t have access to this IT software, and I don’t think that this document reflects an effort to incorporate those people’s feedback,” said Semrad, a faculty member in the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, referring to the rules of procedure.

Berrios said that county staff will be available to assist the public in drawing maps and they are considering providing a computer terminal at the Orange County administration building for the public to use. Evans told Semrad that while she shares her concerns, the committee’s role is to provide “meaningful opportunity” for residents to engage in the process.

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