The process of redrawing political district boundaries is one of the essential responsibilities of our government. The results of this process will affect a community for the next decade, and in some instances, the impacts could last generations. You may think that the gravity of this once-a-decade event would be reason enough for a large-scale public engagement campaign from state and local governments. Sadly, you’d be incorrect.
In the past couple of weeks, I have been attending community districting meetings around Miami-Dade County. One thing I quickly noticed was the lack of attendance at these meetings. Community involvement is essential, yet our local officials aren’t fully transparent about communicating when these meetings happen. And, even if the meeting is given notice, it is at a minimal level. At some meetings, county officials even asked how community members heard about the meetings. Some attendees said they learned about the meeting by visiting a County Commissioners’ personal Facebook page, and others said their local newspaper. But are those means of communication enough to truly get the community involved?
If the Miami-Dade Citizens Redistricting Advisory Board wants more participation, why aren’t they doing more to get residents involved? Why aren’t they using the many different means of communication available to us in 2021? A community member’s suggestion at the District 8 meeting was that the County should let the community know through U.S. Mail, which is a great idea and reasonably cost-effective. Paid advertisements using social media are now commonplace and can be micro-targeted to specific neighborhoods. Radio is also still a significant source of information for residents of Miami-Dade.
Unfortunately, the County isn’t known for advertising public meetings through the mail or Facebook, and I don’t think it will start now. If the County Commission hearings are an example, we’re in a lot of trouble. Rarely are commission hearings held at times accessible to a working family, nor are they advertised sufficiently. Certainly, the County could afford a small fraction of our over $9 billion budget to ensure the public is given ample notice and encouragement to attend important community meetings.
How can we ask our residents to be involved in the Community Districting process when we can’t even give maximum effort to raising awareness? After decades of gerrymandering and seeing the impact it has had on our communities across the County and State, it is the government’s responsibility to bring awareness and maximize voter engagement.
It’s not as if the community doesn’t want to be involved. For example, at the “highly” attended District 3 redistricting meeting (10 people showed up), a resident argued that the Census numbers were wrong; housing projects closed down, and people moved out of the District. The same resident also said he did not like the new draft district maps. Commissioner Keon Hardemon and State Representative James Bush III attended this meeting. In the meeting, Representative James Bush III asked county employees for bigger maps but was directed to the county website. I think when a State Rep asks for bigger maps than preparation for these meetings needs to be better.
Yes, we had a pandemic that affected the way that we communicate and congregate together. But I feel like we need to change the culture of how our local governments advertise community meetings. We have enough technology available to let the public know about them. I see the effort with having meetings live streamed but there should be a hard push by local officials to get the word out. Our local officials shouldn’t only represent us and our interests but they should also let us be part of the work that they do. Whether it be County Commission Meetings, Budget Hearings, or Redistricting Meetings. We should be there stating our needs and being part of the process but it can not happen without our local officials making the effort to better outreach about these meetings.