Though they haven’t been completely dismissed yet, advocates supporting a change in the size and/or configuration of the current Hillsborough County Commission are on life support today.
On Tuesday night the Hillsborough County Charter Review Board voted to review a proposed “5/4 plan,” which would expand the current number of county commissioners from seven to nine, adding an additional single-member district and another member who would be elected countywide. The other option they will review will be simply to maintain the status quo, which is seven commissioners, four elected from single-member districts and three countywide, also called “at-large” districts.
A “5-2” proposal to keep the current number of commissioners at 7 — but simply adding an additional single-member district and removing an at-large district, failed to gain any traction, and is now completely dead.
The drive to change the composition on the commission has been going on for four years now. Advocates say that it’s been over 30 years since the board’s current configuration was established, and in the meantime, the county’s population has nearly doubled to 1.2 million, meaning that each single-member district represents roughly 300,000 voters, which they say is too large for any individual commissioner to effectively represent.
For comparison they cite counties of similar or larger sizes in the state such as Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, all of which have at least seven single-member districts.
Hillsborough has but four such districts, with three at-large or countywide elected officers.
When Commissioner Les Miller proposed a change a few years ago, the issue was booted to the Charter Review Board, which convenes only once every five years to deal with such issues.
But the 14-member board, consisting of 10 Republicans and four Democrats, seems inclined to keep the configuration the same, frustrating advocates of change, including those who say it’s time to create a single-member district that would favor the election of a Latino man or woman. The county is over 26 percent Latino, yet there are no Hispanics on the board.
That idea rankles charter board member Jan Platt, who helped create the current board composition back in the 1980s. She said it “saddened” her to hear such emphasis on nationality.
“Hispanic people think it’s rigged against them. It is not. The key is to get out and run and find good, qualified people to run,” she said, calling any redistricting to facilitate the election of such a candidate “reverse segregation.”