The voters of Manatee County will have a say in how Manatee County School Board members are elected.
At Tuesday night’s board meeting, the board voted to place a referendum on the 2018 general election ballot for voters to decide if board members will be elected in single-member district elections or at-large elections.
Under the current structure, the board has five at-large members. Each member must live in a specific district but represents the entire county.
Board Chairman Charlie Kennedy and member Dave Miner had championed the cause to let voters decide if that structure should continue. Kennedy said a shift to single-member elections would prevent outside influence in elections since candidates would not have to campaign county-wide and would therefore need less money to fund campaigns.
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Miner emphasized the main reason to hold the referendum is in order to remind voters the board trusted them to make decisions.
The motion lost in a 3-2 vote at the Feb. 14 meeting. But board member Karen Carpenter changed her mind, and at the Feb. 28 meeting she proposed revisiting the issue. Carpenter said the key issue was not so much single-member versus at-large representation, but instead to let the residents decide the board structure.
The motion passed on Tuesday night, with Carpenter, Miner and Kennedy all in support of the referendum.
Both Gina Messenger and John Colon opposed the motion. Messenger said she feared single-member districts would not achieve the intended effect.
“My concerns still stand that if this referendum does pass, it could lead to more bureaucracy, an un-unified board. ... I do not believe it will lessen outside influences in election,” Messenger said. “We have many local elections that have shown that.”
Colon warned that if voters favor single member districts, the shift would result in board members battling over special projects for each district.
“I know special interest groups feel they can’t get what they want ... but the school board members — there’s five of us, and we have to represent everybody,” Colon said.