At the end of a nearly four-hour meeting Tuesday night, School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) member Diyonne McGraw called on her colleagues to go back to the drawing board.
In a four-part plan McGraw proposed that the staff attorney access current census data to begin the process of updating the SBAC’s precincts in order to redraw district lines, which the board has not done since 2001.
McGraw’s request included using the current district precinct maps used by Alachua County supervisor of elections to make sure all current board members live in the right district, using a 10 percent population variance between districts. The plan would also calls for the SBAC chair, Dr. Leanetta McNealy, to send a letter to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis explaining that the maps did not get reassessed in 2011 and that the SBAC is moving forward now.
McGraw's proposal came after two weeks of controversy regarding her current residency in District 4, although she was elected to represent District 2. McGraw's defeated opponent in the 2020 election, Khanh-Lien Banko, took the issue to court last week, but on Tuesday, hours before the school board met, a judge ruled McGraw could continue to participate while the issue is resolved.
After McGraw presented her proposal, McNealy said she agreed with McGraw’s request and tried to move the motion forward, but staff attorney David DeLaney advised her that doing so might violate Florida's Sunshine Law promoting government transparency.
DeLaney and Carlee Simon, superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, asked for more time to act on the request. They said calling an emergency meeting in 48 hours wasn’t enough time to get the map information necessary to report back to the board.
Board members pulled out their calendars and tentatively agreed to convene June 25 to tackle the topic.
Tuesday's meeting included dozens of comments from members of the community during two public comment sessions. From pastors to teachers to parents, people expressed a mix of opinions about McGraw's residency issue.
Some commenters said the matter is as simple as McGraw not living in the district she represents, while others declared the push to remove McGraw, who is African American, is racially motivated.
McGraw’s attorney, Richard Keith Alan II, also spoke to the board during public comments and notified them that attorney Jeff Childers, who represents Banko and three other plaintiffs, had formally asked DeSantis to intervene.
Alan told the board that he had received notice that the governor would be weighing in on the case from Alachua County attorney Bob Swain, who is representing the Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton.
“While there are some affirmative defenses that I intend to raise with respect to the current complaint that is pending, some of those affirmative defenses may or may not apply depending on the action that the governor may take," Alan said. “So until I see the governor's legal position, I think it’s premature to make any final decisions about how I intend to proceed on behalf of Ms. McGraw.
Alan requested that the board refrain from making any determinations about the legal issues until he has the opportunity to raise any affirmative defenses in legal proceedings.
“I think that while I can respect everyone's desire to see the issue resolved immediately, I think we need to be patient with the process," Alan said. "I think that we need to respect the constitutional right that Ms. McGraw has to defend herself against these claims.”
When reached by phone Wednesday morning, Childers said he was disappointed but not surprised by the court's ruling against a temporary injunction.
"It was a big ask," he said.
Childers said the judge "did find some very helpful things" that formed the basis of his letter to the governor's office. In the letter—which he provided to Mainstreet Daily News—Childers quotes four passages from Keim's order, including two that note McGraw's lack of residence in District 2 means she is "not entitled to hold the seat," and that "the seat is considered vacant."
The other two quotations cite the determination that McGraw's residence violates SBAC policy and the corresponding constitutional requirement in such a situation.
"The statute does not use the word 'may,' it uses the word 'shall,'" Childers said, adding that Banko is not seeking the seat. "It seems to us that the governor is required to replace the out-of-district member."
Childers said the governor's office has confirmed receipt of the letter but not taken a position. He dismissed the effort to retroactively redraw district boundaries and said it would only create a more "legally confusing" situation.
"This whole thing is just starting," Childers said. "The temporary injunction hearing was maybe what you could call round 1 of the fight. Given what the judge provided us in the order with those helpful findings, we are currently working on our strategy for the next round."
Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from Jeff Childers.