Miller's plan was to have the BOCC allow citizens to vote on changing the current structure of the commission — four single-member seats and three at-large seats — to one in which there would be five single-member seats and just two-county wide. Arguing that Hillsborough is the largest county in the state with the fewest district seats, Miller said times had changed from when the charter was last revised in 1983.
But only the other Democrat on the board, Kevin Beckner, supported his proposal. All five Republicans voted it down.
Commissioner Mark Sharpe said he didn't like the idea of gerrymandering districts, though Miller denied that's what he was proposing. He added that Sharpe should ask colleagues Sandy Murman and Victor Crist about gerrymandering (they both formerly worked along with Miller in the state legislature). The proposed maps showing a new fifth single member district in fact were compact, hardly what congressional and legislative lines look like right now in Florida.
Among those fervently in support of Miller's proposal were members of the Hillsborough Hispanic Coalition, a group that came together last year to argue for the creation of a district that would give Latinos a greater chance of representation on the BOCC.
However, those attempts were rejected by the Commission during the public redistricting hearings last summer. In December, the group filed a protest with the U.S. Department of Justice challenging the newly drawn districts, claiming that the new map dilutes the voting power of Latino voters.
Advocates say that there has been explosive growth of Latinos over the past decade, and that it's time the board reflect that diversity. Hispanics/Latinos now make up a full 25 percent of the population in the county.
During the public hearing portion of the meeting, prior to the vote on Miller's proposal, citizen Marilyn Smith called out Victor DiMaio with the Hispanic Coalition, saying he was "spewing out crap" for saying that 30 years ago the board was an all-male, all-white affair (she specifically mentioned Sylvia Rodriguez Kimball, the first black and Latina to be elected to the board). Smith said the proposal was a way of "ghettoizing" the board, and said of Latinos, "You want to be different? Go back to where you came from," before adding that she was not prejudiced.
Moments later Miller apologized to the blacks and Latinos watching the meeting for having to hear Smith's "ghetto" remark, saying, "That cuts deep. It hurts. It's painful, and if you ever had to face those comments in your life, you know what I'm talking about."
Although the proposal would only have placed the measure on the ballot, with no guarantee that the public would support it, Mark Sharpe said a better route to getting it on the ballot would be for its supporters to gather signatures.
Ken Hagan said he thought the current system still worked best for the county, while Al Higginbotham said he simply didn't have enough information to support the proposal, expressing concerns about costs. Attorney Mary Ellen Farris didn't have any figures to quote, but said any costs would be for hearings to inform the public about the measure.