The Palm Coast City Council this morning began its once-every-10-years redistricting process–the redrawing of voting-district boundaries in accordance with the results of the decennial census.
The process is required of all local and state governments: the Legislature will be busy redistricting Florida’s congressional, state House and state Senate boundaries in the session starting in January. State-level redistricting, especially in polarized states, can be contentious and often–as was the case 10 years ago in Florida–isn’t finally resolved without litigation.
In contrast, local-level redistricting tends to be uncontroversial and routine, whether in cities, the county or the school board, each of which will be going through the process Palm Coast started today. But it’s not without the potential for controversy, as was the case in Palm Coast 10 years ago. Some meetings of the redistricting commission got rowdy. A candidate running for a council seat was initially disqualified when his address was drawn out of the district he was running for. It seemed like a transparent attempt to play politics with the coming election. Faced with significant public outrage, the council reversed the redistricting commission’s findings, ensuring that the candidate could stay in the race.
Palm Coast’s process, guided by charter, requires the appointment of a citizens’ redistricting commission, which then crunches the new population numbers, draws the new boundaries and submits its results to the council. The council then approves the end result. The commission has 120 days to do its work.
The council this morning appointed five residents and registered voters to the redistricting commission, but did so in an oddly incomplete way: the city clerk read out only the last names of three of the individuals–“Dr. Carlton,” Fernando Melendez, “Ms. Pennington,” “Dr. Davidson,” and Mike Martin. Martin is a member of the elected board of the East Flagler Mosquito Control District. Melendez is a leader of a local group of Hispanic Republicans. The names were later specified as Rob Carlton, nominated by mayor David Alfin; Melendez, nominated by Councilman Eddie Branquinho; Bonnie Pennington, nominated by Councilman Victor Barbosa; and Steven Davidson, nominated by Councilman Klufas. Martin was also a Barbosa nominee.
The names were not published or presented ahead of time in any way when the clerk–who was speaking by phone, working on her vacation to accommodate the special meeting–read the nominations to the council. Three hours later, the city was still working on providing more details about the names. But nor was there any public interest in the process or the nominees: but for the presence of a single nominee–Melandez–and just four other people in the audience who were not members of the city staff or the council, the chamber was empty this morning.
Each council member could nominate up to two individuals. Most had a single name, and one, Ed Danko, had none. “I had no one who is interested,” he said. (Danko, due to Covid exposure, was appearing by zoom, as was City Attorney Bill Reischmann.)
There is no charter requirement that the redistricting commission include an alternate.
No dates have been set yet for the commission’s first meeting. Jose Papa, the senior planner and the administration’s point person on redistricting, was to contact the members of the commission to coordinate the meetings. “I foresee that maybe there’ll only be two or three meetings,” Papa said.
City manager and staff will provide technical data to the commission.