Dennis Cross, one of five candidates for the Palm Coast City Council election—that primary is on Sept. 13—would be disqualified, through no fault of his own, should the city council approve the plan its redistricting commission unanimously recommended this afternoon, after a single, little-noticed meeting on redistricting options.
The commission considered five alternate mapping plans, three of which balanced population within court-proof norms. It approved so-called alternate 2. (See the numbers and the maps.)
- The Redistricting Maps and Commission Background Material
- Palm Coast Charter
- Existing Palm Coast Voting Districts
- Palm Coast City Election: Reducing Polling Locations, Possibly Changing to Even Years
- Jewish Polling Site Goes Lutheran: Palm Coast’s Precinct 9 to Merge Into Precinct 22
The recommended plan would be a boon for the candidacy of Jason DeLorenzo, the government affairs director for the Flagler Home Builders Association. DeLorenzo’s visibility and constituency’s clout work to his advantage against the only other candidate left in what would be District 3, Charles Ballard, a relative unknown. Ballard lives on Palmwood Drive, which is unaffected by boundary changes.
Incumbent Holsey Moorman and his challenger Bill McGuire, both in District 1 to the north of the city, are largely unaffected by the changes. The race for mayor is also unaffected. Qualifying for the races doesn’t end until Aug. 9, and others may yet declare themselves, particularly in light of the new boundaries. The one near certainty, if the proposal doesn’t change, is that Cross is out.
“That’s kind of revolting, isn’t it? I’m totally in shock,” Cross said. He intends to dispute the proposal and request that redistricting be delayed until the next election. “What’s probably most startling to me is the timing of this,” he says, reading from an April 18 document from Kimberle Weeks, the Flagler County supervisor of elections, certifying his candidacy based on the 138 petitions he submitted. “In my case this is the worst scenario,” Cross said. “I’m denied an opportunity to even be a candidate in the district where I live now.”
At no point after the city began issuing paperwork to candidates in spring did it warn them that their qualifying materials, including petitions or eligibility, may be in doubt because of pending redistricting, Cross and DeLorenzo said. At no point did the city warn them that the money they’d be raising form supporters, and money they’d be spending for their campaign, may be for naught.
It wasn’t malice so much as inattention—and the fact that census data wasn’t in until a few weeks ago: It wasn’t until May 10 that City Manager Jim Landon appraised the council of various requirements the city, as the manager of its own elections and redistricting, was responsible for, including requirements to appoint a redistricting commission—and on the possibility that redistricting could bump existing candidates out of contention.
The city charter spells out the city administration’s and council’s redistricting requirements following every decennial census. (See pp. 8-9)The council is required to appoint a redistricting commission “[b]y the first day of the month following official certification notification of the decennial census to the state.” The commission then has 120 days to file a redistricting plan, based on administrative support and data provided by the city manager’s staff. “After receipt of the commission report, the Council shall adopt a redistricting ordinance at least 90 days before the next regular city election,” the charter states.
The next regular city election is Sept. 13, the primary, which may decide several races. The general election, if necessary, is scheduled for Nov. 8. The council is not scheduled to approve the plan, on a second hearing of the ordinance formalizing it, until June 21. There would then be less than 90 days between that approval and the election.
But City Attorney William Reischmann is interpreting the date of the next election as the general election, not the primary. That’s not sitting well with Cross, either.
Cross, who has the backing of the tea party movement, lives in Grand Haven, an affluent gated community east of I-95 and east of Colbert Lane. That area was part of District 3, which extends west to Belle Terre Parkway, and occludes around Palm Coast Parkway to the north. Under the proposed redistricting plan, the entire area east of I-95 would become part of District 2 to the north, the seat currently held by Frank Meeker, whose seat is not up this year. That district is currently the most disproportionately under-populated, relative to the three other districts. Its population would grow from 11,922 to 18,402. All four districts would then have populations ranging from that number to a maximum of 19,487, in District 1, the seat held by Holsey Moorman.
Moorman’s district would more than double in geographic size, but almost all the new area is uninhabited. It’s part of Palm Coast’s long-term growth plan. Moorman’s district would add a bulge of neighborhoods within the Pine Lakes Parkway loop south of Palm Coast Parkway. Like DeLorenzo, Moorman may have to gather some new petitions to qualify, because candidates’ petitions must all be gathered from the district they’re running for, whatever the redistricting entails.
“I was happy that I didn’t fall out of my district,” DeLorenzo, who attended the redistricting meeting, said.
“It’s going to add some work to our campaign, because I’m sure I’m probably going to lose 40 to 50 percent of our petitions, so I’m going to have to walk the community again and get more petitions signed.”
The redistricting commission, nominated by the council, was made up of five members: Albert Cunningham, Clint Smith, Louis McCarthy, Patricia Bottoms and Chris Vorndran. The meeting was barely noticed: the city listed it on its web page on its “Calendar at a Glance” section as a “Redistricting Commission Meeting” on May 26. But it wasn’t otherwise noticed anywhere. Nor was the redistricting documentation, including the five alternatives prepared by the city administration’s planning staff, made available to the commissioners at the meeting, made available on the website ahead of time. The city’s relatively new Facebook page, which the city administration has been touting as a fresh, useful tool to keep residents in the loop and involved, is rich in leisurely happenings, but makes no mention of unusual meetings, or issues that may—as in this case—impact the totality of the city’s population for the next 10 years. Cross was not at the meeting. He knew it was taking place, but was under the impression that it was closed to the public. (It wasn’t.)
Beside the commission members, several city planning staffers were at the meeting to assist the commission, and just two members of the public, both of them candidates in the city election: DeLorenzo and Charlie Ericksen, who’s running for mayor.
The redistricting commission will meet again on June 2 at 2 p.m. at the city office’s conference room, at City Market Place. That meeting is open to the public as well, as must all city-appointed commission, council and advisory board meetings must be. The city council is scheduled to hear the first reading of the redistricting commission ordinance at a special meeting on June 14, and again at a regularly scheduled meeting on June 21. Cross said he intends to make his and his supporters’ presence felt at some of those meetings.