Bill letting voters change Alachua County Commission format passes House
Chuck Clemons is off the hook. Image via Colin Hackley.

The ballot initiative would change the county’s five Commission spots from at-large seats to single-member districts.

Legislation allowing voters to decide whether to amend Alachua County’s charter to change who their county commissioners represent passed the House floor Wednesday.

HB 1493, sponsored by Jonesville Republican Rep. Chuck Clemons, passed 80-35 largely along party lines.

The bill places a ballot initiative in front of Alachua County voters in 2022 to change the county’s five commissioners from at-large seats to single-member districts. Instead of representing the whole district, each Commissioner would only represent voters within the boundaries of their district.

If the bill passes the Senate and voters back the change, Republicans could have a shot at getting representation on the Commission, something that hasn’t happened in decades. Democrats make up about 66% of county voters, but are largely centralized in Gainesville, the county’s largest population center and home to the University of Florida.

However, cities outside of Gainesville lean red, meaning Republicans have a better shot at picking up a Commission seat in a single-member district format if one of the districts includes a larger slice of the county’s other cities.

During the bill’s second reading on Tuesday, Clemons said the change could boost access to seats for those underrepresented in the area.

“History has shown that single-member districts do a great deal to enable underrepresented populations and minorities to be elected to public office,” Clemons said.

However, Democratic Rep. Yvonne Hinson of Gainesville pointed out before Wednesday’s vote that the County Commission has elected at least one Black at-large Commissioner since 1996. She also argued that since the county’s Black population is scattered across the county, single-member districts could reduce Black access to seats.

Republican Rep. Spencer Roach said he wants residents to decide the issue.

“The bill is not about whether Alachua County should have single-member districts, the bill is about who is going to decide that,” Roach said.

The Alachua County Commission and Gainesville City Commission have both voted unanimously to signal their opposition to the bill.

County Commission Chair Marihelen Wheeler spoke during public comment at one of the bill’s committee stops last month. She said the bill was an affront to home rule.

“I am frankly embarrassed that this has come before you. This is a local issue that we should be dealing with and have dealt with in the past,” Wheeler said. “We know if it gets there, if you folks put it there on the ballot, it will be voted ‘no.’”

Not all elected officials in Alachua County oppose the bill. Newberry City Commissioner Tim Marden, a Republican, said last month he backs it because the Democratic County Commission did not consider it during its annual charter review process.

“This is not representing the entire county, far from it,” Marden said. “What are they afraid of, having someone just speak?”

The bill now must be passed through the Senate for approval.

Tristan Wood

Tristan Wood graduated from the University of Florida in 2021 with a degree in Journalism. A South Florida native, he has a passion for political and accountability reporting. He previously reported for Fresh Take Florida, a news service that covers the Florida Legislature and state political stories operating out of UF’s College of Journalism and Communications. You can reach Tristan at [email protected], or on Twitter @TristanDWood

One comment

  • Daniel English

    March 5, 2022 at 3:59 pm

    Of course the Alachua County and Gainesville City Commissions are against the bill. As it is now, they have all the power and have for decades.

Comments are closed.


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