Redistricting Commission Finally Has a Map to Send to City Council. But This Is Far From Over.
Behold, Dallas, the shiny new city council districts the Redistricting Commission has drawn for you! Don't uncork the champagne just yet, though. The commissioners themselves certainly didn't seem to be in the mood for it.
Near the end of last night's six-hour meeting (yes, yes it was), the commission voted 11-4 to approve cPlan16d, the submission drawn by commissioners Domingo Garcia, Brooks Love and Billy Ratcliff, adding on a few smallish last-minute amendments, mostly based on suggestions by citizens at Saturday's public forum. The commissioners voted the plan forward with varying degrees of enthusiasm; they were also strikingly honest about saying what they thought went right with this process, as well as what didn't.
"I thought redistricting was about people and populations," said commissioner Mary Hasan at one point, who has seemed ever-more dissatisfied during the commission's meetings. "But I found out I was a little bit delusional. ... It seems certain people in certain parts of town have a stronger voice. You have to fight a lot harder when you live in the southern sector."
But first, just before the meeting began, Bill Betzen came by to mention something he said the redistricting staff told him: Between Saturday, when his own map was voted down, and last night, the staff received more than 250 emails in support of his plan. But it didn't pass the commission's vote, and so last night's meeting was about debating between Plan 16 and Plan 5, which was drawn by commissioner Hollis Brashear.
As we said last time, it was pretty clear already which way it was going to go. The final vote wasn't quite unanimous, but it wasn't too shabby either.
That said, the commissioners still had a lot of worries, so much so that a few wanted to forward all three late-stage plans -- 16, 5, and 3 -- to the city council, so that if they don't like 16, they've got some back-up. That idea was ultimately vetoed by a 9-6 vote, but commissioners still weren't shy about discussing their concerns (and Brashear will be submitting his own "minority report," detailing the strengths of Plan 5, he said).
Commissioner Donna Halstead expressed her worry that many of the districts, especially District 3, which is growing rapidly, weren't being drawn with an eye towards the future. "This doesn't take into consideration areas where we know substantial growth or demographic changes" will occur, she said. She was also not pleased that the majority Hispanic districts stayed in the western edge of town, though the Hispanic population has actually grown in the east. "What we're doing here is drawing a map to accommodate incumbents," she said plainly. (Reminder: That's not cool.)
For her part, commissioner Elizabeth Jones was still worried about the balance between Districts 6 and 2, especially making sure that the neighborhoods in the Love Field area were somehow kept intact. "People don't live in an even way," she said. "Oftentimes, it's not so neat and clean." But she still pointed out what she saw as a few major victories for the commission, including creating one district for all of Pleasant Grove and keeping West Dallas intact.
A few people came forward to ask the commission for even more last-minute changes and additions. Betzen spoke briefly, to thank the commission for their hard work. "You've allowed a public process to happen here," he said, calling it a pioneering effort. "I look forward to doing this again in 10 years." (He's written a longer statement on his redistricting blog.)
"Your map did a great job," commissioner Corky Sherman told him. "It just ran into politics, the ugliest thing." That prompted a rather grim round of applause from the audience.
"You've been the consummate gentleman," commissioner John Loza added. "And I mean that."
"Your plan got 12 votes as No. 2," Garcia told Betzen. "Your map should have been the second one here."
During a break, commissioner John Lozano expressed some relief that the process was over (several of the commissioners said they looked forward to watching redistricting 10 years from now on TV), but said he was uncertain what would happen to the map now. Chair Ruth Morgan and vice chair Billy Ratcliff will present the map to Mayor Mike Rawlings on September 7. The city council then has 45 days to adopt the plan, or modify it and then accept it. But he wasn't sure if the council will accept it in this form, or continue to "tweak" the thing.
"At the beginning, I was under the impression that they were going to accept our hard labors," he said, "But council member [Dwaine] Caraway's dropped several times by to let us know this is just the beginning. They could turn the whole thing around." He shrugged and smiled, "But it's been fun."
At the end of the night, there were just a couple minor points for the assistant city attorney Barbara McAnich to clear up: First, the commissioners aren't allowed to run for city council, or be appointed to any other city board or commission ("Hallelujah," remarked commissioner Tom Wood.) They can't sue the city about anything relating to redistricting (sue away on other stuff, though, she said. Actually, "please don't."). They're also covered by the city if someone sues them over something redistricting-related.
But that doesn't cover the ethics complaint Sandra Crenshaw has filed against three commissioners: Ratcliff, Brashear and Halstead. That sucker is still moving forward, starting with an ethics commission hearing on Friday morning. Oh, you bet we're going.
"It never is over, I suppose," said commissioner and former council member Gary Griffith earlier in the evening. But the commission's work is done for another 10 years, at least. See you next decade, guys!