By a 3-2 vote, Sumter County commissioners decided Tuesday night to place a referendum on the August 2022 ballot that, if approved, would elect commissioners by district voters instead of at large.
The referendum is part of the Reverse One Sumter campaign, led by Commissioner Oren Miller, and more than 10,000 voters last year signed petitions endorsing the referendum before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down efforts to collect signatures.
A choice for commissioners was to put the referendum on the ballot by county action or to require proponents to collect enough valid signatures to put it before voters.
A petition drive would require signature validation by the county supervisor of elections and payment of a fee. The August 2022 primary is the first available election ballot without holding a special vote.
More than 16 years ago, voters approved One Sumter, which changed election of commissioners to all county voters. The change allowed voters in The Villages to exert much greater influence. Voters rejected another referendum a few years later to undo One Sumter.
Newly elected commissioners Miller, Craig Estep and Gary Search approved the Reverse One Sumter resolution while Doug Gilpin and Garry Breeden opposed it.
Estep, who also proposed a delay in raising impact fees due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said the difficulty collecting petition signatures during the pandemic also justified the county taking action.
“This is a one-off for me because of the pandemic,” he said.
The action also was supported by Search.
“I believe the county voters have a right to decide how the county should be governed,” he said.
Most of the roughly 150 people who packed the meeting room at Everglades Recreation Center came to oppose an increase in impact fees. But some also spoke about the referendum.
Marilyn Iskra said the petition drive should be used to put the referendum on the ballot, not a county resolution.
“We should not bypass the process,” she said, adding that Miller should recuse himself from the vote because of his leadership of the petition drive.
Lordes Toro-Rosas said electing commissioners by district and raising impact fees would be ways to maintain Sumter County’s rural character.
“We want you to protect us and keep it as rural as can be,” she said. “Other counties have refused the overbuilding and we can, too.”