Miami Commissioners punt vote on new city map, citing incomplete information

City of Miami Commission 4-9-24
The deferral Thursday marked the latest turn in a lengthy court battle to reconfigure Miami’s district lines to ones devoid of racial consideration.

A legal ordeal over Miami’s district boundaries remains unresolved after Commissioners delayed approving a settlement agreement to replace the city’s existing map and cover hefty court costs of community groups that sued the city.

Commissioners Joe Carollo, Miguel Gabela, Christine King and Manolo Reyes voted 4-0 to defer a vote on the agreement until April 23 and request a stay on the unresolved court case in the interim.

Commissioner Damián Pardo, who sponsored a unanimously approved measure in January to settle a lawsuit over the map, was absent.

The deferral Thursday marked the latest turn in a lengthy court battle to reconfigure Miami’s district lines to ones devoid of racial consideration.

At issue is a city-drawn map that five residents, four local advocacy organizations — Engage Miami, GRACE and two NAACP chapters — and the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) complained was racially gerrymandered. They sued the city to replace the map in December 2022, and the case has since snaked through the court system, nearly reaching the U.S. Supreme Court in August.

The most recent court ruling came April 10, when federal Judge K. Michael Moore concurred with the plaintiffs that the city designed a map in 2022 and a replacement in 2023 with the goal of “sorting its citizens based on race.”

Miami was hard-pressed to deny that charge. In several 2022 meetings, Commissioners openly discussed wanting a map that guaranteed the City Commission was racially diverse, with three Hispanics, one Black and one White Commissioner. Two of them — Carollo and Reyes — reiterated that aim Thursday.

The plaintiffs and Moore maintained that deliberately drawing the map with racial consideration violated the 14th Amendment.

Carollo called for the deferral Thursday morning. He said a reporter for “a local tabloid” called him and shared information “to the smallest detailed percentage of voters in each district — by race, by ethnicity, by political parties.” That was information he didn’t have himself, he said.

“I want to be able to know what the breakdown is so that everybody knows it, (and) I want to be able to look back (and see) how the maps in all the different percentages have changed,” he said. “We have been accused, wrongly so, of racially gerrymandering these districts. Those are pretty grave words.”

Reyes echoed Carollo’s sentiments. He said he was also unaware detailed voter and demographical information about the proposed new map was readily available and that if he approved the agreement without that data, it would be “under duress.”

King and Gabela reluctantly agreed to defer, but said they’d seen the information Carollo and Reyes complained was unavailable because they’d asked for it.

“All of the statistics you guys said you didn’t have, didn’t get, I received,” King said. “I asked those questions.”

Before voting to defer, Gabela asked City Attorney George Wysong and the city’s outside counsel in the case, Christopher Johnson of GrayRobinson, if doing so could cost taxpayers millions more while carrying other risks.

Johnson said Moore could agree to stay the case until later this month without condition, but he could also choose not to do so and push the case into a protracted and costly remedial process.

“(That) would involve coming back to this Commission and redistricting the map again, similar to what was done last year after the injunction (with) meetings, drawing new maps, possibly using the consultant or not, coming back to the Commission for approval of that map (and) objections by the plaintiffs (that) would have to be heard by the court,” he said.

“(Judge Moore) may then choose to accept the city’s new map or reject (it and) draw his own map.”

A side-by-side of the Miami map plaintiffs are proposing (P5) and one the City Commission adopted last June. Image via ACLU and City of Miami.

If agreed to as-is, the settlement would approve a map the plaintiffs drew and pay them more than $1.5 million in legal fees. It would also force a 2025 ballot question asking voters to approve a charter amendment banning candidate-favoring gerrymandering and creating a Citizens’ Redistricting Committee to create and make recommendations on future maps.

The plaintiffs’ proposed map (P5) largely maintains the shapes of the current districts. But where the existing map forms “irregular appendages,” the ACLU said, the new districts in P5 “follow major roads and easily recognizable boundaries” to more naturally encompass neighborhoods.

Coconut Grove, divided into three districts in the existing map, would sit fully in District 2. Meanwhile, a portion of Overtown now in District 1 would rejoin the rest of the neighborhood in District 5.

The vote Thursday came just over three months after the newly composed City Commission passed a resolution directing outgoing City Attorney Victoria Mendez to “exhaust all options” to settle the suit.

Lawyers from the ACLU cited 2022 public meetings in 2022 in which then-Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla — whom Gabela unseated and who now faces a host of corruption charges — asserted that the goal was “to have an African American district, for lack of a better term, a White district, which is the coastal district, and three Hispanic districts.”

Reyes said at the same meeting, “The only race that we’re going to bring into this equation … is we have to keep diversity on the dais, and that’s why we have districts.” He added, “If not … let’s do away with districts, then … we will have five Hispanics right here, since we are 70% of the population.”

Carollo and Reyes, who are both term-limited, insisted Thursday that while race informed the city’s district-drawing process, it was for the noble purpose of ensuring equity at City Hall.

Carollo, a Republican and former Mayor, said Miami switched from citywide voting to district voting in the first place so Black voters didn’t lose representation in local government. The true intent of the lawsuit and map-replacing effort, he said, is to shift electoral power to Democrats.

“I was told that in (my) District 3 — this is what the reporter told me; I have no idea — that the Democrat percentage … jumps to 55%. You only have 45% Republican,” he said.

Reyes, who won re-election last year with 86% of the vote, said the importance of maintaining a diverse Commission is far greater than mitigating additional costs the city might incur by delaying a settlement.

“The amount of money we have spent is going to be nothing compared to the demands that we are going to receive if we don’t have diversity (on) the dais,” he said. “Having diversity (on) the City (Commission) is … priceless. I would pay for it, whatever it takes, because our city should be equally represented.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704