Updated: Apr 2
City Commission debates “Beta Map”; unanimously approves Districting Commission’s map
The Winter Garden City Commission unanimously approved March 10 a new redistricting map, developed and submitted by the Districting Commission, spurning a last-minute entry. The new map goes into effect Dec. 14, 2022, for the March 14, 2023, municipal election.
Among the newly approved map's major changes, District 3's minority population declines to 58.56 percent, from 63 percent, including a five-percentage point decline in the Hispanic population. However, District 3 still maintains its identity as the only one in Winter Garden with a majority of minority voters: 18.88 percent Black voters, nearly 25 percent Hispanic voters, 7 percent Asian voters and more than 5.5 percent who identify as biracial.
Despite being the smallest district, District 3 grows the most under the new map. People living south of Roper St. down toward Braddock Park, who are accustomed to voting in District 4, will now be in District 3, and their commissioner is Mark Maciel.
District 1 expands as well, shifting westward to include Brandy Lake and Lakeview Middle School, and southward toward Colonial Dr. Residents in this area now have Lisa Bennett as commissioner.
The City Commission was set to approve the map at its Feb. 24 meeting when two commissioners sought a delay to review the map further. District 4 Commissioner Colin Sharman said he had an idea for increasing minority representation in District 3. District 2 Commissioner Ron Mueller said he hadn’t had an opportunity to examine changes to his district. The City Commission then voted to postpone final approval until its March 10 meeting.
In the interval, a late-addition proposal called the "Beta Map," developed by Districting Commission member Steve Dolgin, after his group submitted its official map to the City Commission, was submitted. For a moment, it appeared that it might gain some traction, despite Mayor John Rees' admonition against interfering with the Districting Commission’s work.
The mayor has said previously that he prefers to stay removed from the Districting Commission to avoid any public perception that maps may have been gerrymandered. He reiterated that position to VoxPopuli ahead of last week’s meeting.
“I guess I’m just really cautious on that because I don’t want anybody thinking anything negative or different on that, and that’s my position,” he told VoxPopuli in an interview Thursday. “I like it to be independent. I just want to be careful of my influence on that.”
Dolgin, chosen by District 2 Commissioner Ron Mueller to sit on the Districting Commission, made dozens of maps, and told VoxPopuli that he viewed the process as a “fun optimization puzzle.” The Beta Map “improved the minority profile of District 3,” he said, which is why he “like[d] it better than the one that was submitted.”
The Beta Map increased the minority population in District 3 — which already has a majority of minority voters — to 60.26 percent, compared to 58.54 percent in the map submitted by the Districting Commission, a difference of 1.72 percent.
Commissioners Mark Maciel of District 3 and Colin Sharman of District 4 both appeared interested in the Beta Map. It was championed by Mueller, who touted the proposal’s increased minority representation at last week’s meeting, as well as the fact that it boasted cleaner district lines and re-combined a homeowner’s association that had been split into two districts.
But once Thursday’s meeting got underway, it was clear the Beta Map was a nonstarter.
“You get my attention when you talk about increasing minorities in District 3, but 1 percent is negligible,” said Maciel. “From what I understand from the community — and we had minorities on the committee also — it just creates problems in the future for the expansion when we go off Marsh Road.” Maciel said he didn’t want to go against what the Districting Commission had recommended. He added that his appointee to the Districting Commission, Myron Brown, stood by his group’s map.
Sharman, who had also explored a map of his own making, weighed in against the Beta Map as well. “Is it just me, or are we trying to push something that community doesn’t want? Who am I to say how they should increase their numbers when they have a representative on the committee.” He said he would follow Maciel’s lead. “He represents them and had a representative on that [commission].”
District 1 Commissioner Lisa Bennett believed the Beta Map had merit. “I thought it was a good map, yes,” she told VoxPopuli before the meeting began. But she emphasized the importance of adhering to procedures. “We have systems in place underneath our charter and there’s a reason for the way we govern ourselves. Smarter people than me set that up. People come together that have no agenda, that have no political interests in the outcome. It keeps it, I feel, more fair and balanced. I feel like we need to go with the recommendation of the people we appointed and were unanimous and follow the system that we have in place.”
Bennett made a motion to approve the District Commission’s map that had been submitted Jan. 27. Maciel seconded the motion. It passed unanimously.
Voting districts are redrawn every 10 years to accommodate population fluctuations and ensure equal representation in each district. The 2020 census recorded Winter Garden’s population as 46,964 residents. The Districting Commission — chaired by Derek Blakeslee and comprised of John Murphy, Selenia Roldan, Brown and Dolgin (each chosen by a commissioner and the mayor) — distributed roughly 11,000 people into each district. The goal, Blakeslee told VoxPopuli, was to keep neighborhoods intact, districts aligned and demographics roughly the same.