We told you it was getting weird in there: At last night's meeting of the city's Redistricting Commission, the most important person in the room wasn't even in the room. That would be Sandra Crenshaw, cactus juice addict, Schutze co-star and, increasingly, the commission's biggest headache.
Crenshaw was scheduled to appear before the commission last night to present her two proposed redistricting maps. But in a move reminiscent of that time Marlon Brando sent that Native American lady to pick up his Oscar, she emailed a three-sentence statement instead, which the project demographer read into the record. And they were long sentences.
"This is to serve notice to the City of Dallas," the statement began, "that I will not make any personal appearances before this commission until my redistricting attorney on Voting Rights Act issues has the opportunity to review all of the public and confidential notices and efforts that I have submitted to ..." followed by a list of city officials that included the city attorney, the acting secretary, two city managers and several city council members.
Crenshaw accused commission members of directing the public to draw maps in a way that protects incumbents, of "berating" public submitters and of various other corruption- and manners-related forms of unpleasantness. She ended by saying, "Until my personal attorney and I can be assured that somebody other than me bring objections to those concerns I cannot appear before this body in the audience or at the mike and probably not at City Hall period."
This wasn't exactly a surprise: Crenshaw has repeatedly expressed her displeasure that Dwaine Caraway has been allowed to submit a map through Billy Ratcliff, his appointed commissioner.
"The whole purpose and intent of appointing people to draw the lines is so it will be independent of the council people," she told Unfair Park in a lengthy phone call last week."So you don't try to gerrymander to keep the current incumbents."
But when we talked to Redistricting Chair Ruth Morgan yesterday, she reiterated that it's legal and above-board for city council members to submit maps. "There really is no issue there," she said. "Anyone can submit a map. No one is confined from submitting one. Anyone can ask a commissioner to do the map, as long as it's perfectly transparent. This was done last time, there's no change there. The commission shouldn't get in the business of saying, 'You can't submit one or you can't do it this way."
That still left the issue of Sandra Crenshaw's own maps last night, which the commission didn't quite know how to handle. John Loza proposed indefinitely postponing both of them, which several commissioners immediately said they disagreed with, pointing out that it wasn't the first time a map had been submitted without its creator being present to answer questions. Loza argued that this time was a little different, saying that when a submitter "has deliberately insulted the commission by adamantly choosing not to appear before it, I would say we don't have to give much consideration to those maps." At that, an older African-American woman in the audience laughed unhappily.
Morgan went into a brief huddle with staff attorneys, and the commission ultimately decided to leave Crenshaw's maps in the mix. Crenshaw was also signed up to speak during the public comment period. She didn't show up for that one either, resulting in what was probably the shortest Redistricting Commission meeting ever. By 8 o'clock, Unfair Park was back out on the sidewalk, wondering what the hell to do with the evening. And what, for that matter, are we going to do when the redistricting is over completely? This is way better than TV.