A newsletter covering redistricting, the Census and the fight for political power

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Jacksonville won’t select School Board maps in time for 2022, says city lawyer

City Council is responsible for drawing School Board districts, and the city’s lawyers say those districts won’t pass in time for the 2022 election. But they’re leaving out alternatives.

By Andrew Pantazi
The Tributary

Jacksonville’s City Council is not likely to draw new Duval County School Board seats soon enough to apply for the 2022 August elections, according to lawyers for the city.

At the City Council’s first redistricting committee meeting since Census data was released, Assistant General Counsel Peggy Sidman testified that the city’s redistricting plan wouldn’t go into effect for School Board races until 2024.

Under the city’s law, redistricting plans must be approved at least nine months before an election. But it’s not clear why City Council wouldn’t just change the ordinance to give themselves more time to approve redistricting plans.

The Florida Legislature doesn’t have the same deadlines and may continue redistricting into March.

Jacksonville’s City Council is responsible for drawing five at-large residency City Council districts and 14 neighborhood council districts. Each of the School Board seats are then automatically drawn with each board seat making up two adjacent council districts.

The committee also approved a motion from City Councilman Garrett Dennis to begin their work with the existing map, as opposed to drawing new maps from scratch.

Unlike the Florida Legislature, the City Council isn’t prohibited from gerrymandering, or drawing districts for political gain. The Florida Legislature’s standards prohibit drawing districts that favor or disfavor incumbents or political parties, and the standards ban districts that would deny an equal opportunity to racial or language minorities.

Sidman also told the City Council it can draw a map where the range of population sizes in districts can deviate from the ideal population by up to 10 percent without worrying about violating the principle of one-person, one-vote. If the deviation is above 10 percent, she said the City Council needs to have a reason to justify that large of a difference.

In Jacksonville, the ideal total population is 71,112. That means if the largest district has 74,668 people and the smallest has 67,557, there is a 10 percent deviation.

Congressional redistricting is held to a tighter standard and often kept to fewer than one-percent deviations.

Here are some of the questions I’m monitoring as City Council moves forward.

  • Should the City Council try to pass a redistricting plan by December so that it can take effect in 2022? If not, should it amend the ordinance to give them more time to draw 2022 districts?
  • Should City Council use voting-age population or total population to determine ideal district sizes? If it uses voting-age population, the City Council will favor neighborhoods with older populations (like the Beaches). If it uses total population, the City Council will favor neighborhoods with more children (like the Northside and Westside).
  • Should City Council adopt standards similar to the state’s Fair Districts amendments? Or should City Council adopt alternative standards? Some examples of what they could prioritize: more competitive districts, more districts proportional to the county-wide results, more districts that are compact or more districts that reflect communities of interest.
  • Should City Council try to draw districts with more equal populations or accept a 10-percent deviation? Just because districts are allowed to deviate by up to a 10-percent range doesn’t mean all councilmembers will think they should.
  • Should City Council find that Black voters need protected districts or else their preferred candidates will consistently be rejected? If City Council believes it needs to make race a dominant factor in drawing districts, then it will need to have a legitimate basis. The Tributary will cover this more in depth next week.
  • Should City Council set specific geographic boundaries? For example, in 2011, the City Council opposed districts that crossed the St. Johns River. As a result, only one district crossed the river. But doing so prohibited City Council from maintaining a single downtown-based district that included the Southbank and San Marco.

City Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson, a former School Board member herself, said she wasn’t interested in speeding up the timeline.

Councilman Dennis, on the other hand, said he was worried that this would set a new precedent that deviates from past redistricting cycles where new maps went into effect in time for the next School Board races.

Councilman Aaron Bowman, who is leading the committee, asked all members to come with a list of their priorities for redistricting by the September meeting.

On The Calendar

The Jacksonville City Council Special Committee on Redistricting meets again on Thursday, Sept. 9, from 1-3 p.m. at City Hall.

Quick hits from the Census

What you need to know about Jacksonville’s City Council seats

Fourteen of Jacksonville’s 19 City Council districts are neighborhood districts. The remaining five are elected countywide.

The fastest-growing part of the city is Southeast Jacksonville, where old Skinner land has been selling and getting developed.

The most populous district is District 11, in the southeast part of the city, and it has almost 20,000 more people than the new ideal district size based on total population.

District 13, which covers the Beaches, has the smallest population, about 6,100 fewer people than the ideal district size based on total population

But this is where the City Council’s decision to use total population or voting-age population becomes so important.

Using voting-age population benefits six of the seven districts — all except Arlington’s District 1 — located entirely on the south and east side of the St. Johns River.

The seven districts primarily to the north and west of the St. Johns River tend to be younger and less white.

The district maps are also decent pictures of segregation in the county. Even though Duval County is 49 percent non-Hispanic white, the Beaches district is 77 percent white.

Republicans on Jacksonville’s City Council hold a two-thirds supermajority, even as the county has been swinging to the left. Of the 14 neighborhood districts, Republicans hold nine sets, as well as four of the five at-large seats.

In 2016, when Donald Trump won a slight plurality (48 percent to Hillary Clinton’s 47 percent), he won nine of the 14 districts.

Even though Andrew Gillum won a majority (52 percent to Ron DeSantis’ 47 percent) of Duval in 2018, he won just six of the 14 districts.

In 2020, Joe Biden won a majority (51 percent to Trump’s 47 percent), and he won seven of 14 districts.

In the news

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Andrew Pantazi edits and reports for The Tributary. He previously worked as a reporter at The Florida Times-Union where he helped organize the newsroom's union with the NewsGuild-CWA. He and his wife,...