‘A sham and a scam!’: Debate over City Council, school board maps heats up as work to redraw begins

A final vote during a special council meeting will happen on Friday

There were passionate moments on Tuesday over how to redraw city council and school district boundaries so that they do not diminish the voices of Black people in the Jacksonville community.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There were passionate moments on Tuesday over how to redraw city council and school district boundaries so that they do not diminish the voices of Black people in the Jacksonville community.

“This entire process is a sham and a scam! You’re not listening to the voice of the people,” said Ben Frazier, who leads the Northside Coalition.

The districts are being redrawn again because a federal judge said the city used race to determine boundaries. The city council now has just seven days to come up with a new plan with the deadline being Nov. 8.

RELATED: Northside Coalition, NAACP file suit over Jacksonville City Council’s redistricting plan

The maps discussed Tuesday came under fire by some after no one had a chance to study them before the council tossed some aside.

News4JAX was one of those questioning that decision not to release the maps before the meeting so the public and media could study them.

The special City Council committee was considering four maps on Tuesday but tossed two out, including one map submitted by the plaintiffs that brought the lawsuit that ultimately led to the judge’s ruling.

The council will now consider two maps at another meeting on Wednesday where they will listen to public comment before making a decision on what map to move forward with. The maps have been dubbed Lime and Maroon.

Maroon map favored by city council members during Tuesday's meeting. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

A lot of the council members seemed to favor the Maroon map.

Looking at the maps can be confusing and there was a lot of concern among the people that attended Tuesday’s meeting that the decision had already been made before the public had a chance to weigh in.

As the council was preparing to begin the first of three meetings this week to draw the new maps, News4JAX was trying to get copies so we could study them to know what’s being considered. The city’s top lawyer refused to let that happen.

As the meeting started, the four maps first in play were discussed. But council members didn’t go into a lot of detail about the difference between the maps. In fact, some of the maps that were projected on a screen were different from what was being handed out, and in an hour and 15 minutes, it was decided two of the maps, including the one from those who filed the lawsuit, were dismissed. That all happened even before the public had a chance to weigh in on the maps that they just saw. That was a major concern during public comments, which were limited to one minute.

In fact, Frazier blasted the council members and they turned off his microphone when his minute was up.

“You have awakened a sleeping giant. Black voters are awake,” Frazier said.

Others questioned why they could not see the maps earlier.

“Why hold those maps until moments before the meeting started? Why couldn’t they be public, they had them ready. Why wouldn’t they publish them already and let people have an opportunity to really digest them?” Kim Pryor said.

And the head of the Duval Democratic Party said that is a major concern.

“For the council to spontaneously come up with two particular maps that they favorite the most within the span of an hour. Before they read any of the comments that were came in through email, before they took any the decision that Judge Howard made,” Duval Democratic Party Chairman Daniel Henry said.

And that’s the question News4JAX repeatedly asked Republican City Council President Terrance Freeman, who pushed back.

“I believe that their comments and concerns as they’re making them are being heard. And if as we come and hopefully as we work through the process, you all will be back again tomorrow. And there’s a chance that their considerations or thoughts or comments that one of my colleagues, myself, we agree with and we make that change to the map,” Freeman said.

This is not over.

Three more meetings will be held. On Wednesday, the council group will only take up two maps and then narrow it down to one.

On Thursday, the committee will make its choice and then a town hall meeting for more public comment will take place Thursday night. A final vote during a special full city council meeting will happen on Friday.

Judge denies city’s motion for stay

In October, after a federal judge issued an injunction that blocked the city from using its new City Council maps, the city filed an appeal.

As part of that appeal, the city also filed a motion to put a hold on the judge’s injunction until the appeal played out.

On Tuesday, the judge ruled on that motion for a stay and denied it, going against the city.

That means that while the city continues its appeal, the city is still blocked from using its originally-passed maps in any upcoming elections.

The judge said that the city didn’t present any argument that they were likely to win their appeal, one of the most critical factors in getting a stay pending appeal.

The city had argued that one reason for a stay was that a redistricting case from Alabama that’s currently in front of the US Supreme Court could impact their case. The judge said no, the two cases are different enough that the Alabama case wouldn’t have a significant impact on this case.

The city also argued that the deadline imposed by the judge wouldn’t give them enough time to receive and respond to public input. But in the order, the judge says: “Significantly, despite defense counsel’s arguments to the contrary, the City Council itself appears confident in its ability to meet the Court’s deadline.”

The order goes on to point out that Freeman opened the first meeting by saying they would meet the court’s established timeline. The judge also pointed out that the committee only scheduled four meetings, with a 10-day gap between the first and second meetings.

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.