With a slight push, Fort Myers City Council members voted unanimously on Monday to recommend a new neighborhood redistribution map that cuts a steep population increase in southern Fort Myers while protecting the three districts to minority majority of the city.
Six council members, joined by Mayor Kevin Anderson, supported a redistribution map known as Scenario 12. Two members favored other options but decided to present a united front on the delicate political issue.
The new map brings the city’s six neighborhoods to less than 4% of the average neighborhood population of 14,399 as of Census Day, April 1, 2020.
There is a need to redraw district maps to maintain the standard one-person and one-voice electoral standards of the Constitution.
In Fort Myers, a big challenge was to redistribute the population of Ward 6 so that all city council districts fall within a narrow margin. In the background, there was the potential to disrupt the carefully designed minority and majority neighborhoods, created decades ago to ensure minorities were represented in municipal government.
The proposed district map approved by council will be discussed in another public hearing followed by a vote on whether or not to adopt the new plan.
The population of Ward 4, represented by Councilor Darla Bonk, has grown significantly more than the population increases in the other five quarters of the city combined.
New layouts mean Ward 4 would be confined primarily to the area southeast of the Six Mile Cypress Reserve. Much of the population to be moved to other neighborhoods was moved to Ward 2, represented by Johnny Streets Jr., and Ward 6, represented by Liston Bochette III.
As a result, wards 1, 3 and 5 also underwent incremental changes in the dividing lines.
Bonk initially supported another alternative to district changes, but when it emerged that the eventually adopted map would clearly attract the most votes, she agreed to support it and urged City Councilor Fred Burson to do the same.
Burson had backed a proposal known as Map 5, saying it would result in fewer major changes to his Ward 5 than the proposal backed by the majority of council.
“First of all, you have to understand that I won’t be here in 10 years. These are the residents for the next 10 years,” Burson said. “For me, it’s more compact geographically. If you look at all the other neighborhoods, they’re more compact.
The majority-backed plan, Burson argued, would mean population centers in his Ward 5 district would be “too far apart” with boundaries well to the south and east. The result, he said, would see one end of the district dominate his politics.
Bonk said residents of his Ward 6 were also concerned that the district lines might be moved from a decidedly white, suburban neighborhood to the city’s urban core.
“I have met voters who live in the affected area of Ward 6 several times and their choice fell overwhelmingly on Map 11,” Bonk said.
This scenario would have pushed Ward 6 further north and into the section of Fort Myers that sits on the east side of National Highway 82 and has ample space available for development.
After Bonk’s preference drew Burson’s support, she suggested that they both join the majority, leaning behind board members at the same table to successfully urge Burson to make the vote unanimous.
Final approval of the city’s redistribution program is expected by the end of the month.
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: New districts in Fort Myers appear to protect minority-majority seats