Garcia Defends Private Redistricting Meetings; Calls Morgan, Halstead "Dinosaurs of Dallas"

As we noted yesterday, during her presentation of the Redistricting Commission's proposed map to the city council, chair Ruth Morgan mentioned that one member of the commission, whom she later identified as Domingo Garcia, held "private meetings" with other commissioners in the last month of the redistricting process. The whole thing, Morgan told us, was contrary to the commission's "rules, regulations and practice." She wasn't mad, she said, just disappointed (which, as anybody with a mother knows, feels way worse). This morning, we finally got Garcia on the phone for his response.

"These were not private meetings, OK?" he said. "These were consultations with people that have a stake in these neighborhoods."

Garcia also told The Dallas Morning News that these consultations were done to avoid discussing individual blocks or homeowners associations in a public forum, which would have been "tedious." We asked for examples. He cited District 12, which he said needed to cede around 9,000 people to District 11, and the contentious boundaries between Districts 6 and 13 in the northwest part of town.

"I have no idea, being a resident of Oak Cliff, what would be acceptable in 11 or 12," he told us. "So I talked to neighborhood leaders from the Preston area of North Dallas to get their response. I think that's the proper way to do it. There was nothing secret about it."

These consultations, he insisted, are the same process that happens in any political body anywhere. "Whether it's the U.S. Congress or the Texas House of Representatives, there's always caucuses and meetings all the time," he said. "As long as you don't have a quorum, that's perfectly legal. We always followed the legal procedures and guidelines in all our meetings."

The real problem, he said, is Morgan's own background. "I think Dr. Morgan comes from an academic world where theory and the ivory tower concepts kind of dictate," he said. "It's not ... she did not grasp that the political process is about talking to people and getting input.

"This is democracy in action," he insisted. "To try to do what Dr. Morgan suggests is in essence to sit on a throne and listen to the subjects come petition you and try to make a decision as a philosopher king. That's not American democracy."

Garcia also believes Morgan represents an different era in the city's history. "You have old Dallas as reflected by Dr. Morgan, who wrote a book which criticized Judge [Jerry] Buchmeyer and the 14-1," he said. "She basically comes from the Old South, the old way of doing things in Dallas."

So too does commissioner Donna Halstead, he added, who was, if you recall, the other commissioner who declined to meet with Garcia outside of City Hall.

"Their influence is waning," Garcia said. "In my opinion, you're seeing the last gasps of that era. It's reflected in these two women, with their baseless accusations. ... The most contentious part of this process was that I tried to create a minority district in northeast Dallas, which is now majority minority, in the Lake Highlands area, and I couldn't get enough votes. Mrs. Halstead is still upset about that."

Ultimately, Garcia said, his map still passed the commission with an 11-4 vote. "The only ones that did not vote for it were the four Anglo commission members from North Dallas," he said. "If you think of the dynamics, the Anglo commissioners that have city council districts that border minority districts -- Districts 14, Brooks Love; District 13, Elizabeth Jones; Corky Sherman in Oak Cliff -- they voted for [plan 16]. It's just the old guard, the dinosaurs of Dallas, that voted against it."

Garcia added that even though a meeting outside of City Hall might appear improper, it's really not. "Your former reporter for the Dallas Observer named Laura Miller always complained that city ouncil did things behind closed doors and there were executive meetings," he said. "Then when she became mayor, she realized nothing secretive was done behind closed doors. Sometimes perception is not reality."

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