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Orange County redistricting committee to hold Monday night public hearing on one proposed map that consolidates Ocoee into District 2, among other changes

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Dibya Sarkar

Managing Editor

Saturday, December 11, 2021


Orange County

Committee Proposal 13A, which was drawn up by member Joe Kilsheimer, was adopted Thursday night and will be the focus of a Monday public hearing. Among the changes, Ocoee will be consolidated into one district.

In the end, there was only one.

During a grueling 3½-hour public meeting Thursday night that resulted in two withdrawn maps and five rejections, Orange County’s 15-member committee — entrusted to draw up and recommend a proposed redistricting map based on the 2020 census — settled on one proposed by member Joe Kilsheimer, a former Apopka mayor.

The Advisory Committee for Redistricting will now review Kilsheimer’s map — dubbed “Committee Proposal 13A” — more in-depth at a Monday public hearing beginning at 6:30 p.m. Its members will likely propose amendments to address various flaws that some found with it. That was OK by Kilsheimer, who told his colleagues he won’t be able to attend but gave his blessing to “tweak the map to make it better.”

Broadly, Kilsheimer’s proposal would consolidate Ocoee’s population of 47,295 entirely into District 2. Currently, the city is split between districts 1 and 2. Oakland, Windermere and Winter Garden would remain in District 1. Kilsheimer explained his map represents “broad general themes” to keep cities together in single districts.

That should come as good news to Ocoee Mayor Rusty Johnson who urged in a Dec. 8 letter to the redistricting committee that it consider consolidating the city into one district. “Ocoee is currently the County’s 3rd largest city, after Orlando and Apopka, with a population of nearly 50,000 residents,” he wrote. “As we look to continued growth over the next decade and beyond, Ocoee would benefit from Orange County’s new investments in infrastructure under the leadership and direction of one County Commissioner, rather than two.”

Advisory committee member Jason Mellen of Ocoee said Johnson’s letter held sway with the committee and was instrumental in narrowing the choice to map 13A. However, Winter Garden may yet be divided, he added.

“District 1 had to lose a ton of citizens to other districts,” Mellen told VoxPopuli via text. “Winter Garden was and still is a prime candidate to be split.” He added that the committee did not hear from any Winter Garden officials.

“We heard from Eatonville’s mayor and residents, Pine Hills residents, the Ocoee mayor and residents,” Mellen said. “I spoke up for Winter Garden as I have talked to countless Winter Garden residents and they did not want the city split with more than 20,000 residents moving to District 2.” Winter Garden Mayor John Rees did not respond to email or phone requests for comment.

During discussion on map 13A, Camille Evans, who co-chairs the committee along with Hector “Tico” Perez, said she’s a “big fan” of Kilsheimer’s proposal, though she said it wasn’t perfect. Still, the map is “one of our strongest if not the strongest.”

While the committee hopes to present a new redistricting map to the Board of County Commissioners by mid-January, Evans said there’s no assurance the county board would accept it.

“The recommendations of this body are not required to be adopted by the Board of County Commissioners,” she said at the end of the meeting. “While we will definitely have, I hope, something we strongly recommend to them, be mindful that the process continues at the Board of County Commissioners' level once we complete our work here.”

Out of the eight maps the committee was considering Thursday night, two were withdrawn by those who proposed those maps because they thought other proposed maps were stronger. Five others were rejected, some narrowly.

Wes Hodge, a committee member and the Orange County Democratic Party chair, had his map 12 rejected by a vote of 8-7. Right after the vote, Hodge amended his vote to reject his own map. That maneuver allowed him, later in the meeting, to procedurally seek a motion for the committee to reconsider his map. In that map, Winter Garden, which is entirely in District 1 currently, would be split with District 2. Ocoee would continue to be split between Districts 1 and 2.

Hodge said multiple committee members had wanted to see his map move forward with proposed amendments and that it would be a “disservice” to the community if the legal team didn’t review it. He also said that the committee had hoped to advance three maps for final consideration at Monday’s meeting instead of just one. Advancing map 12 would essentially give the committee more of a choice, he said. The reconsideration failed.

Evans said that it wasn’t a requirement that the committee advance three final maps.

“Being down to one map for consideration is not a failure of this body,” she said at the end of the meeting. “To me, it means that we’ve identified specifically the issues that members of … our community and this committee have brought forth throughout these last several weeks. And we’ve identified the map that most closely gets us to addressing those concerns and giving us the opportunity to make whatever changes that are proposed.”

Norine Dworkin contributed to this story.

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