As part of the arduous task of creating new city council districts that align with city charter guidelines, local officials are conducting a series of informational meetings regarding redistricting.
The St. Petersburg City Charter requires redistricting every 10 years in conjunction with U.S. Decennial Census. The Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC) creates and recommends the new city council districts and has 60 days to submit its report to council members, which includes an updated map and description of recommended changes.
The CRC consists of nine citizens, appointed by the eight council members and Mayor Ken Welch. Commissioners held two public information sessions on the process Monday, as it reviews the latest Redistricting Report. What was mostly a mundane procedural update ended with community activist Corey Givens Jr. suggesting that Rev. J.C. Pritchett II – appointed by Councilmember Lisa Wheeler-Bowman to represent District 7 – recuse himself from the commission.
“It’s evident that there’s a clear conflict of interest,” began Givens. “Political ambitions have gotten in the way of the integrity of this body. He (Pritchett) is drawing the lines for the district that he intends to run in.”
Givens said Pritchett announced his intention to run for the same district he is now helping create during a 2021 Charter Review Committee – a statement Pritchett vehemently denied. Givens suggested starting the redistricting process anew and noted that “time was of the essence,” as the DRC must submit its report to city council by Oct. 13.
Givens, the only person to speak during the public forum, also expressed his dismay over how the commission is appointed, rather than the city utilizing an open application process. He said the alleged violations of public trust could cause voters to lose faith in the democratic process.
Assistant City Attorney Brett Pettigrew clarified that the city prohibits “declared candidates” from serving on the commission. However, a person must meet the legal definition of a declared candidate, including filing the necessary paperwork with the city clerk and fundraising. Pettigrew explained that “the mere intent to run would not be qualifying under the charter.”
Givens noted his statements were not regarding what was legal but what was “ethically right.” He added that his intent was not to assault anyone’s character but to avoid a similar problem that arose 10 years ago.
In a strongly worded response, Pritchett stated he has no intention of running for city council. He explained that at a charter review meeting last year, “it was lightheartedly said that we would not be making decisions that would prevent us from running in the future.
“The fact is, I have no interest in running for public office. I never have. My family has a long history of public service, and my wife would not allow me to run for public office.”
Pritchett noted that Givens has previously run for public office, unsuccessfully. Pritchett added that he is familiar with the highs and lows of campaigning, politics and public service and realizes moments like Monday evening’s “comes with the territory.”
“But what I won’t do is allow my family, this commission or my community to be insulted by small people with small agendas and small minds,” said Pritchett. “Who think that this sacred space, in this sacred time of deliberating and conversations, is for personal attacks.”
Before the public forum, Consultant Kurt Spitzer relayed that the St. Petersburg City Charter mandates specific redistricting guidelines. He said the most dominant criterion is that districts must be equal in population. Officials also try not to split neighborhoods and ensure changes do not dilute the voting strength of minority populations.
Spitzer noted that the city charter stipulates a maximum population range of 4.75 points, which he called a “very tight spread between the smallest and largest district.” He explained that 2020 census data shows District 6, which encompasses downtown, needs to lose 3,800 voters. District 1, on the city’s west side, needs to gain 2,300 people.
Districts 2 and 4 need to gain 1,400 and 1,500 voters, respectively.
Spitzer said he previously presented three potential redistricting plans based on standard criteria. However, the commission expressed that “none of those plans are really plans that they were interested in pursuing further. Although, parts of plan two were of some value.”
After gathering further feedback from the commission and the public, he revised that plan and created map 2B-3B, which Spitzer believes meets the criteria and preserves boundaries. He relayed that the latest map only split two of the city’s 120 neighborhoods and meets the specified population range.
The commission did not comment on the latest update, and the next meeting is at 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19.
For more redistricting information, visit the city’s website here.