City Hall

Guest Column: Lessons in Redistricting

After our back-to-back items about redistricting last night -- one involving the city of Dallas, one concerning the Dallas Independent School District -- I received a missive from Bill Betzen, about whom Anna wrote a couple of weeks back as his proposed map for the city's new council districts worked its way through the Redistricting Commission. Bill's no stranger here, of course, but after participating in the city's extraordinarily transparent process and watching how the DISD handled redistricting (with attorneys, at a handful of poorly attended public forums, behind closed doors, posting to an "illustrative" and altogether unclear website), he had a few thoughts on the subject.

I asked if we could share them here, he said sure, absolutely. Because, as he explained, "The more the public becomes aware of the contrast between DISD and Dallas City Council redistricting, the more they will understand redistricting and how it should be done. Expanding that knowledge benefits us all!" Jump for his thoughts.

The Dallas City Council comparison with DISD related to the redistricting process is frightening, especially when you consider the old teaching truism that you teach more by what you do than what you may say in front of a classroom. What lessons are being given students by the DISD board in their redistricting process? How does that compare with the lessons from the Dallas City Council? Which lessons do you want spread?

1) Redistricting requires more involvement by attorneys than bvy the public. There were at least three attorneys involved in the DISD redistricting process. While DISD only spent about 60% of the amount that Dallas City Council spent, it appears that a disproportionate about of that DISD money was spent on paying attorneys. Dallas City Council only had one attorney visible in the redistricting process. She was only there for guidance and legal advice, and she was great! She did not draw maps as it appears was done by the attorneys hired by DISD.

2) Redistricting does not require maps being drawn by the public as it is too complex of a process and must be done by professionals. DISD provided no online access or other computer access so that the public could be actively involved in designing the redistricting map. Dallas City Council centered their process on maps being drawn by the public and by the commissioners. Those hundreds and thousands of hours spent drawing maps were donations to the city both by the public and by the commissioners who were also volunteers. It was a priceless lesson about public donations of time. It was a practical lesson related to what can be done online. It also helped to expose the power of gerrymandering, and the need to eliminate it.

3) The public has no need to know the details of the redistricting process. The public does not even to see the maps to be passed beyond maybe seeing the final map two hours before the final vote by the board. The final map was never posted online, and may still not be online as I am writing this, but it was passed by the board last night after less than two hours of visibility to those present at the meeting.

Meanwhile the Dallas City Council had a Commission design the final map and it was posted online. The final proposed Dallas City Council map has been online for 2 days at . It will not be presented to the Mayor till next week. It may be as long as 45 days before it is passed by the Dallas City Council. This provides ample time for the public to study the map, actively criticize the map and suggest alternatives, and write emails, letters, and make phone calls to the Dallas City Council related to the map. (I am actively doing that at

What lessons were given out by the DISD Board? What lessons are being given out by the Dallas City Council? What do we want our children to learn?

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky