City Hall

Last Week, Several From Dallas City Hall Took a Couple of Field Trips to the Justice Department

The answer is no, the question being: Will we ever stop writing about the city redistricting process? But it's been a little while, so let's review. Then we can discuss the dueling delegations who apparently met with the Department of Justice last week to discuss the (barely) council-approved map forwarded by the city on October 24. Here's a teaser: The DOJ folks, according to council member Delia Jasso, had some "pointed questions" about the process leading up to the final map's approval.

On October 5, the council passed a redistricting map that was a sort of mash-up of two maps created by council members; Delia Jasso's plan, which had five Hispanic and three African-American majority districts; and the Atkins-Caraway-Davis-Hill map, which had four African American districts. During an incredibly lengthy, frequently shout-y meeting, Mayor Mike Rawlings decided to pull Jasso and Atkins into a back room and try to create a map that combined the two plans.

Several city council members were upset that they'd been left out of the process of drawing the final map, and that they were essentially being asked to vote on something new they'd never seen before. In the end, Jasso couldn't even support the new map, which squeaked by 9-6, with Jasso, Scott Griggs, Angela Hunt, Monica Alonzo and Sandy Greyson voting against it. Their concerns are, among other things, that the passed map carves up Oak Cliff and denies representation to the Hispanic communities in Districts 1 and 3.

At the time, Jasso predicted a lawsuit over the fewer Hispanic districts. Now, she's a part of the Redistricting Task Force led by former Redistricting Commissioner Domingo Garcia, which will likely be instrumental in bringing that lawsuit. In an auditorium at the Methodist Dallas Medical Center last night, Garcia, Jasso, Griggs and Alonzo talked to an audience of around 40 about the next steps for restoring the plan the Redistricting Commission voted for and forwarded to the council. They also discussed dueling meetings that apparently happened last week at the DOJ: a delegation led by Jasso, who spoke with Department of Justice attorneys and analysts on Wednesday, and another group -- which included the mayor, City Attorney Tom Perkins and council member Vonciel Hill -- that went to see the DOJ folks the very next day.

"The city of Dallas got wind," of Jasso's delegation, she said. "And they made their appointment for Thursday. ... The mayor actually asked me to go, and I said, 'There's no way I'm going to advocate for a map that I voted against."

The DOJ analysts, she said, asked her "pointed questions" about what happened the day the final map was voted on. Looking back on the meeting between her, Atkins and Rawlings, Jasso said, "It felt almost rigged -- it was almost as if they knew exactly what they were going to do and they put me in the room to say that the opposing side was there." She said that she told the two men, essentially: "I can't agree with this map, and I'm not going to vote for it," before leaving the room.

"This map had no public input whatsoever," Jasso added. She urged those present to tell the DOJ -- and specifically analyst Kevin Grigsby, who's the one looking at Dallas's map -- the same thing.

"This is retrogression in the clearest sense, because it takes away the voting power of a Hispanic community," Jasso said. "I know the Department of Justice knows the definition of retrogression -- but it's something I could never get across to my colleagues."

Garcia told the group that more than 500 letters have already been sent to the Department of Justice through the Redistricting Task Force, while Griggs added that another 699 have been collected and sent through the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League. At the back of the room, a couple of attorneys and volunteers waited to help the group fill out of affidavits, in order to discuss anything they witnessed during the redistricting process that gave them cause for concern. The deadline to file letters and petitions is December 8.

Griggs urged everyone to "continue to rally" friends, family and neighbors, adding, "It's a sign of concern from the city of Dallas that they made this last minute push to go to Washington and plead their case."

"I think they know they have a flawed process," Garcia added.

Jasso, meanwhile, made it clear that her primary objection was with the process of how the final map was created. But she also had some harsh words for Rawlings. "From the beginning of the mayor's term, he's done payback," she said, to a group of South Dallas politicos who helped get him elected. "That's not a secret," she said. "The mayor has been in payback mode to that group."

The Department of Justice's response to the map is due Dec. 24. But just in case, Garcia said, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is also fighting the Texas Congressional and House redistricting maps, has agreed to take on this case as well.

"I think we're at a tipping point," Garcia said. "We just need to tip it. We want Santa to remember North Oak Cliff, and our Santa Claus is going to be the Department of Justice."

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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan