"Transparency . . . was sorely missing in this process and I completely disagree with the policy of closing the meetings to the public."
Note: Here's an interesting, and troubling, update from Sandra Tenorio, a member of the county's 4-member redistricting committee. Her emailed report is circulating amongst Hays County Democrats. Tenorio is the local Democratic Party's representative on the committee. She is the Mayor Pro Tem of the City of Buda. This is the first full-blown "inside" report to see the light of day, from a process that up to now has been closed to the public. We certainly welcome any input the Republican Party's Chair and rep on the committee, Bud Wymore, may have.
To be fair, Ms. Tenorio told the RoundUp her emailed update was meant for members of the executive committee of the local party, not for the media. She did not give the RoundUp permission to reprint it. We suspect though that information in her update will be surfacing in the press in one form or another. Since there are no big national security risks at stake here, we decided to run with it in the public interest.
I am sending this email to provide an update of the Redistricting process to date. As most of you know, I was appointed by the Commissioners’ Court as a Democrat to balance representation on the Committee.
Before providing an update, let me provide basic information about the process that has existed to date (I don’t defend the process but want to make sure everyone understands the tone in which this “Committee” operates):
· The “Committee” is a loosely formed group of four people—Commissioner Conley, Commissioner Ingalsbe, Bud Wymore (R-County Chair), and myself—ADA Kennedy, Mr. Rios (redistricting attorney), Joyce Cowan and Steve Floyd (County GIS) also attend most meetings as a resource,
· The Committee has no structure, no agenda, no votes, and no minutes,
· The discussions of the Committee were not had in such a way that a briefing of the process was held, a proposed schedule was adopted, and/or recommendations were made from each member,
· The Committee meetings were not open to the Public and several community members were asked to leave by Commissioner Conley—since he determined that meetings were not subject to open meetings, and
· It can be said that the Committee never reached a consensus on the maps and it was more a matter of Commissioner Conley adjusting possible lines, reviewing population numbers and making more adjustments—with some adjustments resulting from objections and complaints.
During the three meetings that were held after I was appointed (May 4th, June 30th, and July 7th) I tried to emphasize the purpose of Redistricting—that is to protect Voting Rights, protect Communities of Interest, and balance the population among the four Commissioner Precincts. The population of the precincts cannot deviate more than 10% to meet Justice Department standards and the current percentage of minority population in each of the four Precincts cannot be reduced as a result of redistricting.
At the May 4th meeting, Commissioner Conley presented a map to the Committee and requested that his map be the starting point of discussion. Commissioner Ingalsbe requested that we use the existing Commissioner Precincts as a starting point. Conley’s map recommended that Precinct 4 reach into the South end of Kyle and across IH 35 into some of Kyle’s subdivisions. He also proposed that Precinct 1 absorb the Kyle subdivisions east of IH 35. I did not agree with Precinct 4 reaching into southern and eastern Kyle, across IH 35 and Commissioner Ingalsbe didn’t agree with absorbing so much of eastern Kyle. In addition, the proposed plan significantly reduced the percentage of minorities in Precinct 2 and would not have been acceptable.
At the June 30th meeting, Commissioner Ingalsbe presented a map that she and Commissioner Whisenant had developed that removed much of Kyle from Precinct 4 and Precinct 1. The map (known as Map K) also made some adjustments between Precinct 3 and Precinct 4. Commissioner Conley had not reviewed the map and did not support the proposal—offering his own map created by a friend at the Attorney General’s office.
At the July 7th meeting, Commissioner Conley worked on several maps adjusting lines between Precincts. During the exercise, I tried to stress the need to consider Communities of Interest and maintain the same percentage of minority representation in each precinct. Also during this meeting, Assistant District Attorney Mark Kennedy advised Commissioner Conley and the Committee that an “Advisory” Committee was not subject to “Open Meetings” however, if the Committee was to recommend policy with some authority, it would be subject to “Open Meetings”. It was determined by Kennedy that this Committee was advisory and he also recommended the process for public input be announced as soon as possible. In addition, he recommended that several maps be submitted to the Court for consideration.
During the meeting, Kennedy advised the Court staff to place an item on the July 12th Agenda to discuss the process and set a public hearing. To suggest a schedule or number of hearings, you should attend the July 12th meeting or contact your commissioner with your recommendations. I believe they will probably schedule two public hearings—however, I am not sure whether they will be scheduled during the day or in the evening.
By the end of the July 7th meeting, there were three additional maps that were to be developed. The maps were developed in conversation and I can’t say that each map was reviewed and discussed in detail as much as each map included adjustments for population and responses to objections. It will be clear in reviewing the maps that because of the necessary population adjustments—most of the major changes occur between Precincts 2 and 4, with some shifting in Precincts 3 and 4. Commissioner Conley and Commissioner Ingalsbe seemed to agree on the lines between 1 and 3. The major question will be which communities in Precinct 2 will be moved into Precinct 4 and what those two Commissioners are willing to agree to that meets the Voting Rights Act and Justice Department standards.
MAP K (J on the county's website)—is the map that was presented by Commissioner Ingalsbe on June 30th on behalf of herself and Commissioner Whisenant.
MAP L—is a map created by Commissioner Conley and includes almost ½ of Old Town Kyle in Precinct 4.
MAP L2—is another map that returns most of Kyle to precinct 2 except for Wallace Middle School, City Park and Home Town Kyle subdivision.
MAP L3—returns Hometown Kyle, school and park back to Pct. 2 to moves unincorporated portions of West Buda along FM 1626.
MAP L4—was presented by Commissioner Whisenant after the meeting, it returns Hometown Kyle back to Pct. 4 and the West of Buda back to Pct 2—and moves some of the Pct. 3 population in San Marcos to Pct. 4.
The narrative of the maps is confusing and I apologize for the rambling report however, they maps are available through the County GIS at the following web site: (ftp://ftp.co.hays.tx.us/gis/).
I wish I had a more structured report or minutes to present however, I can promise that I did my best to raise the issues that important to us all—communities of interest, minority representation and especially, a sense of fairness. Transparency—on the other hand—was sorely missing in this process and I completely disagree with the policy of closing the meetings to the public.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer. As you review these maps and consider recommendations switching neighborhoods and/or communities, keep in mind how that switch may affect the percentage of minority population in each precinct and how it compares to today’s percentages. Be prepared to trade one area for another in any testimony and be conscious of the impact trade may have on minority percentages.
I am attaching a chart that includes the deviation among the five maps, the population and minority representation. I hope this has been useful and encourage you to look at the maps in detail and be prepared to call your Commissioner with your comments.