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City Council takes redistricting discussion behind closed doors

Jacksonville City Hall.
Jacksonville City Hall.

Jacksonville leaders have decided that their discussion about local voting districts will be come outside the public eye.

The council met in private Friday with the city’s attorney to hash out legal strategy after a federal court struck down the city’s new voting maps as racial gerrymandering. The council had planned to meet to discuss whether to appeal or redraw the districts.

Under Florida's sunshine laws, City Council members are supposed to discuss city business in public except for certain exceptions, including litigation. The council was allowed to meet secretly Friday because a lawsuit over the redistricting continues, city attorney Jason Teal told the council. 

"The Florida Statutes allow you all to not have to meet in the sunshine when you are talking about pending litigation," Teal said. "It is intended to have an open and free discussion; it is an attorney-client conversation during that meeting. But just be aware that it’s only attorney-client until the litigation is concluded."

The Jacksonville NAACP, the ACLU of Florida and other voting rights groups sued over the voting maps, saying the maps pack Black voters into just four districts. The effect is to diminish Black voting power across the city in violation of the 14th Amendment, the suit says. 

U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard agreed and barred the city from using the maps in an election.

Howard ordered city officials to submit new maps to the court by Nov. 8.

Claire joined WJCT as a reporter in August 2021. She was previously the local host of NPR's Morning Edition at WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. During her time in East Tennessee, her coverage of the COVID pandemic earned a Public Media Journalists’ Association award for investigative reporting. You can reach Claire at (904) 250-0926 or on Twitter @ClaireHeddles.