TREASURE ISLAND — A discussion to determine if there is a need to adjust voting boundaries so that each of the city’s four commission districts is roughly equal in population, commonly known as redistricting, ended in an exchange of views as to whether hoteliers are ignored or under-represented by current boundaries.
Deputy City Clerk Celine Kidwell, in her background information submitted to commissioners, advised the city charter requires that the city be divided into four commission districts. “The districts are drawn as nearly as is practicable, on an equal population basis by contiguous boundaries. The goal of redistricting is to rebalance commission districts so that each district is equal in population. Redistricting ensures that each commissioner represents roughly the same number of constituents.”
Redistricting can occur anytime, but it is usually reviewed every 10 years based on population data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The 2020 census revealed Treasure Island's population decreased by 124 residents from 6,708 in 2010 to 6,584 in 2020. Kidwell noted, therefore the ideal number of residents in each district should be 1,646.
The city’s largest voting district is District 1, which has 2,020 residents represented by Commissioner Deborah Toth, followed by District 3, represented by Vice Mayor Saleene Partridge, with 1,678 residents. District 2 is third-largest in population with 1,567 residents represented by Commissioner John Doctor, while District 4 is smallest in population with 1,319 residents represented by Commissioner Beth Wetzel.
City commissioners noted it is difficult to even out voting districts because of the geography of the island, where a majority of residents reside in finger-shaped neighborhoods on the Intracoastal, while the major hotels are located along Gulf Boulevard.
However, one hotelier suggested hotel and motel owners would feel more represented if each district included tourist lodgings, which is the case on other beach cities.
Discussion over a perceived lack of representation of hotel owners was raised by Arthur Czyszczon, whose family has owned Page Terrace Beachfront Hotel for over three decades.
“In Treasure Island, only two commissioners have a majority of hotels (in their district). The beaches west of Gulf Boulevard are literally split in half, only District 2 and District 4 have hotels. I know a lot of the frustrations of hotel owners that they don’t express to the commission, because they feel they are not heard, so they don’t even send an email. They voice a lot of frustrations to me. I hear the frustrations, I see the frustrations.”
Madeira Beach and St. Pete Beach have their voting districts split east to west, Czyszczon noted. “All the commissioners, in both cities, have hotels in their districts. … I feel hotel owners and general managers are not involved, because we feel we’re not represented well. … I know many properties up and down the beach don’t reach out, unless something has come to a point where there’s no turning back. I don’t think any property wants to go down that route.
“I feel the businesses feel they need a little more love than they’re getting,” he said. That love would be felt “if each commissioner had hotels in their district.”
Czyszczon told commissioners some bad feelings may stretch back to dealing with commissioners who were seated five years ago, and did not want hoteliers to email or communicate with them. He agreed the current commission is much better, even “awesome” in dealing with the public.
Mayor Tyler Payne noted monthly meetings are held with hoteliers and businesses. “I think it may take some time to change that level of trust and interest from the hotel owners,” the mayor said. “I can use the owners who come to the meeting as a catalyst to convince more to come and get them engaged.”
He said he considers it the mayor’s responsibility to engage with business and hotel owners. “It’s something I’ve taken to heart. I want to have a better relationship with our business owners, and be their voice because they don’t necessarily have a vote in the process” he said.
Payne said St. Pete Beach and Madeira Beach have the physical geography that is more conducive to spreading out hotels among districts. He said he didn’t see a way, for example, to split up Isle of Capri into separate districts.
“Part of district representation is to have like-minded people represented by the same representative on the commission,” Payne explained. “While we strive to be one big city, we do have distinct neighborhoods that have distinct thoughts and feelings, so I won’t really want to separate that … I feel we have the best possible layout as it is.”
Payne echoed the thoughts of other commissioners in telling Czyszczon to spread the word that “it doesn’t matter what commissioner you reach out to; it really doesn’t matter what district you’re in because you don’t vote. The only purpose of districts is voting. Talk to any commissioner that identifies with you.”
Partridge said she always talks to businesses from other districts. “I talk to the Bilmar all the time and they are not in my district,” she said. “I never feel awkward about it. I know I communicate outside my district. It never even occurred to me that it’s not allowed; it is allowed. Maybe it wasn’t that way in the past.”
Czyszczon said while he considered the current commission and administration “very caring and very much involved,” that was not the case five years ago.
“What about the next five years or the next eight years?” he said. “Maybe eight years down the road we can have another sleepy commission.”
He added he sees redistricting as an “opportunity to get the businesses involved.”
Wetzel said he understood why some of the businesses might want redistricting, particularly with the diversity between Sunset Beach and the hotels. “But there haven’t been any issues where the Sunset Beach residents were opposed to what the hotels wanted to do and vice-versa.”
Payne noted the city could revisit redistricting in two years, if needed. As of the Dec. 7 city commission meeting, the unanimous consensus was redistricting wasn’t necessary.
Meanwhile, Payne said he was surprised by the population drop in the latest census. “Census data only as reliable as people who answer the census,” he noted.
Partridge suggested many island residents might not have been counted. “I know a lot of residents who weren’t even answering their doors because of COVID. You can imagine there’s probably some variation in the numbers.”