We don’t care for a proposal to change the makeup of the Hillsborough County Commission that commissioners are scheduled to address today.
The present arrangement, where voters elect four single-member commission districts and three at-large commission districts, allows every Hillsborough citizen to vote for the majority of the board, a right that would be sacrificed under the new plan.
But despite our reservations, we support the ordinance before the commissioners because it would give voters the final say in a general election referendum. Citizens are entitled to decide whether they want to alter their representation.
Commissioner Les Miller is the driving force behind the measure, and we respect his goals. He believes changing the commission to five single-member districts and only two at-large would make government more responsive.
Hillsborough’s population has doubled, from 646,000 to more than 1.2 million since its charter was adopted in 1983.
That has resulted in the number of residents per single-member district growing from 240,000 to 307,000.
Adding another single-member district would bring that down to 245,845.
Another rationale for the change is it would likely result in the creation of a district more likely to elect a Hispanic.
It is important to have a representative board, but there is a danger in allocating districts to specific groups. It can result in a parochial board, with commissioners concerned only about their specific constituency, and not the county’s overall welfare.
It is extremely important that the measure before commissioners specifies that should voters approve the district change in a referendum, the Hillsborough County Planning Commission would prepare the proposed district maps and that the planning commission “shall not discuss or accept input from any commissioners, county staff or any other person in the preparation of said maps except at publicly noticed meeting or in writing.”
That directive doesn’t eliminate the possibility of political influence on the district maps, but provides a significant safeguard.
Should commissioners eliminate that provision, it’s likely the redistricting effort will be driven by partisanship and political self-interest, not what’s best for the public, and the ordinance would merit rejection.
The planning commission staff is expert on demographics and left to its own devices is likely to produce responsible district lines.
We think the four-three commission — which was developed in the wake of four commissioners being convicted on corruption charges — has served the county well. But that should not preclude voters from considering other approaches.
The case for and against adding another single-member district can be made at length prior to the referendum, when citizens could determine whether a reconstructed board would better meet their needs.