Expanding Alachua County Commission, creating single-member districts worth considering – Gainesville Sun

Changing the composition of the Alachua County Commission wouldn’t mean the end of the world as we know it, nor would it be the cure for every problem facing our community.
But the idea of expanding the County Commission to seven members, with five single-member districts and two at-large seats, is worth considering if it allows more county voters to have a voice in local government. After all, some conservative residents feel so unrepresented under the current system that they’ve turned to such half-baked ideas as splitting off western Alachua County into an entirely new county.
Republican state lawmakers such as Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, and Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, have pandered to these residents by letting them think creating a new Springs County is a viable proposal. In actuality, creating a new county would face enormous financial, legal and logistical hurdles. Pursuing the idea only wastes time and energy better spent on real solutions to local problems.
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Clemons and Perry seem to have moved on to other proposals that appeal to their conservative constituents in Newberry and other small cities and rural areas in the county. At a legislative delegation meeting in September, they floated the ideas of changing the composition of the Alachua County Commission and consolidating county government with the city of Gainesville.
Consolidating at least some city and county government functions, such as fire services, has merits if it would eliminate duplication and save taxpayers. But consolidation plans have been proposed and shot down repeatedly in the past. Trying to push a bill through the upcoming legislative session to allow another local vote on the issue seemed likely to just doom the idea to failure again.
Instead, the lawmakers and the third Republican in the local delegation — Rep. Chuck Brannan, whose district includes a small portion of northwestern Alachua County — have coalesced behind changes to the County Commission. All three voted to move forward with the proposal at a delegation meeting Tuesday at Santa Fe College, with Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville, voting against it.
The measure would need to be approved by the Legislature and governor and then get passed by county voters in a local ballot referendum to take effect. Democratic elected officials such as County Commissioner Ken Cornell have already shown they will do everything they can to defeat the plan.
Some of Cornell’s criticisms have merit. The five-member County Commission functions better than the seven-member Gainesville City Commission, so one wonders why county voters would want to replicate the latter model. The idea of single-member districts has been unable to get enough local support to move forward in the past, so a ballot measure might not have much chance of succeeding.
But giving residents who feel unrepresented the opportunity for such a vote would show their concerns are being taken more seriously. It would be better for the measure to be put on the ballot by the County Commission or a local petition-gathering process, but either seems unlikely to happen.
Even if local voters pass the measure, there is no guarantee that conservatives would be able to elect a right-leaning member in one of the districts, but they’d likely have a better chance than they do now. Local legislative bodies could benefit from more intellectual diversity, especially if it means voices who raise questions that other members aren’t considering.
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