Group suggests district requirements

Published May 9, 2007

DADE CITY - A group charged with rewriting Dade City's charter presented its suggestions to the City Commission Tuesday afternoon, urging the division of the city into five geographic districts with a commissioner elected from each.

Currently, the five commissioners are elected at large. Under the new system, the commissioners would still be elected by the entire population, but would be required to live within a predetermined geographic district.

The group thought the change would be a way to make sure every resident of the city was represented, no matter where they live, and that one neighborhood would not receive greater focus than another, said member John Finnerty. All of the city commissioners live within a mile-and-a-half of each other.

Some cities, such as Winter Garden, have created single-member districts after federal courts determined they did not adequately represent minority constituents, said Marilyn Crotty, the director of the Florida Institute of Government at the University of Central Florida, which helped the committee craft plans for the new Dade City charter.

However, cities that have geographic districts are usually larger than Dade City, which has a population of about 7, 200, she said.

Mike Agnello, a member of the committee, said that it was wise to consider districts now because the city is poised to grow in the coming years.

But others expressed concern that the city is not large enough to guarantee that someone would run in every district.

The city previously considered geographic districts in 1990.

While geographic districts are only one aspect of the new charter, it is expected by city officials to be the most contentious. The charter review commission suggested that when the charter goes to voters - which is expected in April 2008 - the matter of geographic districts be separated into a separate ballot question.

The city commission now plans to schedule a workshop to discuss the group's suggestions.

Staff writer Molly Moorhead contributed to this report. Gina Pace can be reached at gpace@sptimes.com or by calling 352 521-6518 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6518.