McGraw opponents say redrawing districts not a fair solution

The Gainesville Sun | By Gershon Harrell | June 17, 2021

The plaintiffs in a case challenging Diyonne McGraw’s residency say they would not be satisfied with a plan floated at Tuesday evening’s school board meeting to quickly redraw the district lines.

McGraw, elected to the Alachua County School Board in August, lives in District 4, but ran for and was elected to the District 2 seat, which is held by school board Chairwoman Leanetta McNealy.

McNealy suggested — though there was skepticism about whether the process could happen quickly enough — at the board’s Tuesday meeting that the panel might be able to quickly redraw the district lines. 

At a press conference late Wednesday afternoon, attorney Jeff Childers, who represents the plaintiffs, who include former school board candidate (and McGraw’s opponent) Khanh-Lien Banko, Marlon Bruce, Thomas Cowart and Richard McNeill, said redrawing the districts would not be a fair fix to the dilemma of having a school board member elected to the wrong district.

“If the school board could just redraw district boundaries to put Ms. McGraw in District 2, then any school board member who was caught having moved outside their district could just move back to the district and that would cure the problem, but obviously it doesn’t work that way,” Childers said. 

Banko called the attempt to redraw redistricting maps illegal and unethical.

“I also want to be very clear, I am not seeking the District 2 seat, if McGraw is removed, as she should be, then someone else would replace Mrs. McGraw,”  Banko said.

Tuesday, a circuit judge denied an injunction that would have taken McGraw’s voting rights away while the residency issue is sorted out. 

Circuit Judge Donna Keim said the plaintiffs did not offer sufficient evidence to show that they would be harmed by McGraw voting as a school board member.

However, Keim’s denial also suggests that the legal challenge is far from over. That while she did not find a temporary injunction to be the remedy, McGraw may not be able to hold onto the seat.

“There appears to be a substantial likelihood of success on the merits as the statutory authority presented by the Plaintiffs supports their argument that if McGraw does not live in the school district which she represents, District 2, she is not entitled to hold the seat for that district,” Keim wrote.

In short, Keim’s order suggests, if those challenging McGraw’s status eventually prevail, a judge may nullify any votes McGraw might cast, including any that occur while the plaintiffs’ complaint is pending. For that reason, she wrote, “a temporary injunction is not appropriate.”

The ruling did not quash the debate at Tuesday evening’s school board meeting, where McGraw was faced with protesters holding signs opposing her continued presence on the board.

McGraw said she was never untruthful in her candidate documents, and relied upon the Supervisor of Elections office to correctly file her paperwork to run for office.

Image: Alachua County School Board member Diyonne McGraw is sworn in during a ceremony outside the school system headquarters in November 2020. Brad McClenny

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