The School Board of Manatee County decided not to hold a referendum on whether board members should be elected in single member or at-large elections at their board meeting Tuesday night.
In a 3-2 vote, a resolution authorizing a referendum in the 2018 general election was voted down. Board Chairman Charlie Kennedy and Dave Miner supported the resolution, with Vice Chairman John Colon, Karen Carpenter and Gina Messenger voting no.
Under the current structure, the five board members are elected in an at-large, county-wide election and represent the entire county rather than the specific areas where they live.
This is not the first time the board has contemplated shifting the way its members are elected.
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The topic has come up in the past and gained traction again this January when Miner and Kennedy advocated for the shift to prevent outside funding from influencing board elections.
But on Tuesday, concerns over board members battling over special projects for their own district outweighed fears of outside money influencing at-large elections.
It all boils down to who votes for you.
School Board of Manatee County Vice chair John Colon
“It all boils down to who votes for you,” Colon said, arguing that being elected by the county as a whole ensured board members looked out for the best interest of all of Manatee County.
And Karen Carpenter pointed out that both she and fellow board member Gina Messenger had been outspent by their opponents in recent elections, but still won election.
Miner said the shift to single member districts would open up better communication between board members and the community, since board members would represent only a fraction of the population they currently answer to. And, both Kennedy and Miner argued that citizens should be the ones to decide, rather than the board.
“Let the citizens, let the voters of Manatee County decide how they will be represented,” Kennedy said. “I’m a yes on this resolution.”
Let the citizens, let the voters of Manatee County decide how they will be represented.
School Board of Manatee County Chairman Charlie Kennedy
Messenger ended up being the swing vote, announcing herself as undecided at the beginning of the discussion, but ultimately casting a vote against holding a referendum.
“When I were running, would it have been simpler if I had a single district? Of course it would have been simpler,” Messenger said. “It seems to me the argument for keeping it single district is more candidate-based ... but when it comes down to what is really best for our kids, I’m not sure single district is what would do it.”
In 43 of Florida’s 67 school districts, board members run in countywide at-large elections.