Government, News, Politics

Redistricting Settlement Gets Deferred until May 23

Commissioner Damian Pardo, who was absent, expresses disappointment at the deferral

The Miami City Commission voted Thursday to defer a proposed settlement agreement that would reunite Coconut Grove and other Miami neighborhoods under a new district voting map and end 17 months of expensive litigation.

The City Commission voted 4-0 to defer a decision until May 23 after Commissioners Joe Carollo and Manolo Reyes said they needed more information about how the new map would affect the racial, ethnic and political composition of the city’s five voting districts.

“If I’m going to be asked to vote on something, I want to be able to know what the breakdown is,” Carollo said. “At the same time, I would like to compare it (the new map) to the other two maps that we had.”

The city’s two previous voting maps – approved by the City Commission in 2022 and 2023 – were declared unconstitutional by a federal judge last month.

U.S. District Court Judge K. Michael Moore found that the city had engaged in racial gerrymandering in violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. His ruling set the stage for the settlement agreement on Thursday’s agenda.

Commission Chair Christine King questioned Carollo’s rationale for the delay, saying the information he sought was readily available, but she and Commissioner Miguel Gabela agreed to the deferral nonetheless, noting the absence of Commissioner Damian Pardo.

“For the record, all of the statistics that you guys say you didn’t have, didn’t get, I received. I asked those questions,” King said. “I’m ready to move forward.”

King also noted that the City Commission had discussed and approved the settlement agreement during a “shade” meeting held in private with the city’s legal representatives.

“I thought in our last meeting we had come to an agreement, and that this (the resolution before the commission) is a procedural item that captures what we had all agreed to in the shade meeting,” King said.

The settlement would end litigation that began in December 2022 when the ACLU of Florida and a coalition of local organizations and individuals went to court to block a new voting map approved earlier that year by the City Commission.

Under the terms of the settlement, the city would be required to adopt a new voting map (known as P5), pay $1.58 million in legal fees incurred by the plaintiffs, and submit a charter amendment to voters in November 2025 to prevent future gerrymanders.

The settlement would also allow the city’s five commissioners to serve out their current terms, despite a shift in district boundaries. Unless a special election is called, the new voting map would take effect with district elections in November 2025.

Carollo made it clear Thursday that he would prefer to appeal Judge Moore’s ruling rather than settle – something the city’s outside legal counsel, Christopher Johnson, said would need to happen by Friday May 10.

“I am not one of those who is going to drink the Kool-Aid and believe that this is final, whatever Judge Moore says,” Carollo said. “There was no racial gerrymandering.”

Gabela in turn noted Carollo’s personal stake in the outcome. The voting maps that Moore voided moved Carollo’s house – and a slice of Coconut Grove – from District 2 to District 3, the district Carollo represents. The shift allowed Carollo to move back home.

“I want to put on the record, the only gerrymandering here that really occurred, and let’s be honest about this, was your house being accommodated and Coconut Grove being broken in half,” Gabela said.

Pardo, who was traveling on Thursday, expressed disappointment at the deferral but said he was confident the settlement would ultimately be approved.

“I never predict votes, but I feel confident the settlement will pass,” he said.

Pardo said the City Commission had “made it very clear that we wanted to settle” back in January, when commissioners directed the city attorney to negotiate an end to the litigation. “It’s important to settle and move on,” Pardo said.

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