Districting question could go up for re-vote in North Port

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Posted: Monday, March 31, 2014 4:57 pm

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Back in 2012, North Port voters approved districts for city commissioner seats. But now some city leaders question if voters really knew what they were doing. They may soon ask the question again.

"I think it should go back to referendum," says Seat 2 commissioner Tom Jones.

Despite getting a ‘yes’ vote, the majority of city commissioners appear to be ready to ask residents again if they really want to mandate commissioners come from specific districts. "I would love to see it go back to referendum. I would love it," says Seat 1 commissioner Cheryl Cook.

They say they've heard from voters who were confused. While spreading out where commissioners would live in the city, it could actually limit quality candidates from running.

Currently, no matter where you reside you can run for any open seat. The new rule means you could only run for one seat which only comes up every few years. For example, you could have four or five candidates running for one seat and none for another.

"We need to clarify the language and put it back out for referendum so the community does know what they are voting on," says Seat 3 commissioner and Vice-Mayor Rhonda DiFranco.

Others say some voters didn't know all residents would still be voting for all seats.

"From the responses I received, people didn't realize the type of districting that it was." City Mayor Jim Blucher is the only commissioner who did not vote to move forward with discussions on putting the vote back out there. "I don't consider 43% to 57% a closer election, so I think the people knew. I made sure that when I was campaigning, they understood exactly what it was about."

Ironically he was against districts in the first place. "I still am. I think we are too small of a city. If we do it now we are going to be doing it every couple years as we grow."

The growing city would have to spend tens of thousands of dollars every few years to reconfigure the districts.

Still, Blucher says you can’t keep going back and asking. "Most of the people who voted for that said they want somebody from my neighborhood representing the city. That was the bottom line."

For now, commissioners say they just want more info on a vote to repeal the decision. “I don't think there is anything wrong with saying, are you sure? Here is clearer language," says Cook.

There are some deadlines at play. If districts are to go in place, they need to be drawn by the end the of the year. So if there is to be a new vote, it would need to be placed on a ballot for an election in August.

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