Council Watch 

Billy Manes paying attention to local government so you don't have to

There was controversy afoot at this week's civic circle jerk, though you might not have known it from the generally chipper demeanor that dominated the regular afternoon proceedings. Talk of DPAC and fountains and SunRail and fireworks followed acknowledgements of teenage excellence in high school sports and whatever else makes our city so awesome. Show us your teeth! Everything, as always, was in its place.

Or so it would seem. In reality, a morning workshop on the city's intention to slowly move forward with district reapportionment provided an eyebrow-raising foray into dirty politics – not because of the redistricting number crunch and all the fun that implies, but because of the role it would play in rigging next year's municipal elections to favor the unsustainable status quo. You want fair? We'll show you what we think is fair.

Item: The city approves a resolution creating the City of Orlando 2011 Redistricting Advisory Board.

Translation: Finally, the city's most mind-numbingly boring task of morphing its district lines – a sort of backroom map-making 
deal paraded about as public process that inevitably will end up pissing everybody off whilst still looking like a multicolored paintball assault – is underway. Let's deal with the specifics first: Orlando has ballooned over the last decade, according to 2010 Census numbers, from 188,478 people to 238,916 people. The Hispanic population nearly doubled, the black population is up more than 30 percent and whites barely managed a 20-percent jump. More importantly – allegedly – District 1, 
currently lorded over by mayoral hopeful Commissioner Phil Diamond, is too big to govern, experiencing a 67 percent increase in population during the last 10 years thanks to the medical city and the airport. Meanwhile, District 2 – the land of Commissioner Tony Ortiz' mustache umbrella – somehow managed to lose population, making it too small to govern. The other four districts, save Commissioner Daisy Lynum's District 5, which saw a 16 percent white flight from Parramore, all seem to be within the margin of error for continued governance. Hmm. This resolution assigns lay folk nominated by each commissioner – and three appointed by the mayor, including good old Wayne Rich, who used to be the city attorney, has led the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority and has served as "special counsel" to Dyer himself – with the task of looking like they're being fair while basically taking behind-closed-doors orders from those who recommended them. Also, mapmaking is not fun. You may recall that this paper tried to get a jump on the redistricting process back in March (see "The other fair districts," March 3) only to be met with a hot-air wall of "I'm not sure when it's going to happen" responses. Well, the fact is it should already be happening. Both Orange County and its school board initiated their required reapportionment processes in April and May, respectively. Diamond, who has the most to lose (his district) or gain (the mayor's office), made it clear at a morning workshop on redistricting that he suspected the city had been "dragging its feet" on the issue. "There is absolutely no reason why the redistricting committee couldn't have its work done by now," he told us upon hearing the news of the delay on Friday. Oh, wait. There is one reason …

Item: The city approves ordinance 
number 2011-27, relating to elections.

Translation: Time for some political square dancing! Citing the unreliability of Florida's Republican legislative majority – which is tasked with setting the date for next year's presidential preference via committee by Oct. 1 – Dyer and his minions have proposed a brand new standalone election date of 
April 3 for city government races. The way things are now, the city has the option of attaching its races to the primary ballots, thereby saving substantial money, political exhaustion and general confusion on the electorate's part. If and when this ordinance passes, city government races, which are nonpartisan by law, will be freestanding affairs that could cost the city hundreds of thousands in tax dollars. Tellingly, the city can't hold the municipal elections until four months after redistricting is complete, and there's obviously no rush on that. It all makes imperfect sense.

Why in the world would Dyer want this? Commissioner Patty Sheehan tried to soften the blow when she spoke up in the morning meeting supporting the measure; she would rather walk from house to house with pamphlets in February or March, she said (nicer weather!), and she doesn't want to answer questions from raving lunatics about national politics. Not surprisingly, the city has 12 official reasons for this nonsense – most of which involve alleviating voter confusion. No. 11 is a doozy: "Avoids lopsided partisan turnout for nonpartisan city elections in years with presidential primary." So, basically, in this era of philanthropy bashing and legacy construction, the city would rather be able to handpick a smaller sample of registered voters, ostensibly the ones who fall in line with the current agenda, and lead them to the polls twice in a two-to-four-month period. Or, Dyer (and possibly Sheehan) is scared of what might happen if fiscal conservatives show up to next year's primary and vote for a regime change. Either way, it reeks of political gamesmanship and just the kind of election-rigging the redistricting process aims to avoid. See how that works? The ordinance will pass on July 11, even though Diamond told Dyer it was "reckless."

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