What a difference an election can make.
In April, the Fort Worth City Council rejected establishing an Independent Redistricting Commission following the release of the 2020 census in September.
Now, six new City Council members have breathed life into the commission that has long been a goal of advocates of equitable representation in Fort Worth.
The first training for residents interested in drawing City Council district boundaries will be at 6 p.m. June 24 at Hazel Harvey Peace Center for Neighborhoods.
818 Missouri Ave, Fort Worth, TX 76104
You will be able to register fortworthtexas.gov/redistricting
There will be additional training in July and August.
You may send questions and comments to: FWConnection@fortworthtexas.gov.
These advocates have offered an independent redistricting commission as a solution because, they say, it would lessen the influence of back-room politics. The commission would be responsible for drawing district maps, which will include two new districts to account for population growth in the city.
At least two of the five incoming council members say they want an independent redistricting commission. They will join three incumbent members who voted against the commission in April. Also, during the Historic Southside Neighborhood Association’s virtual forum before the election, Mayor-elect Mattie Parker said she would take a fresh look at redistricting.
“We’re going to have a brand new council and mayor that have to re-examine this issue,” Parker said. “Let’s get through this election cycle and re-examine these tough issues we have on redistricting…”
Newly elected council members Elizabeth Beck and Chris Nettles indicated that they would support an independent redistricting commission.
“Well, I have supported an independent redistricting committee to oversee and look at how those lines are drawn,” Nettles said. “But also, as I tell people, I do think that the council should have input.”
New council members Michael Crain and Jared Williams said they were still considering the issue. Crain said he was open to having a conversation about a redistricting commission, but he said that the council would still have to take a final vote on the map regardless.
“I’m happy, as I said before, to have that conversation,” Crain said. “I’m for having an open, fair and transparent process.”
Williams said he wants the process to be more transparent, and he was “very warm to the idea.”
“I think that when we talk about which vehicle draws that, I think we really have to be rooted in what our community and our District 6 residents want,” Williams said.
Leonard Firestone was elected to represent District 7 in the June runoffs. His district has seen some of the highest population growth in the city. The Fort Worth businessman is looking forward to a conversation about an independent commission, but remains undecided.
“There’s certainly a lot to think about… Specifically in District 7 where we’ve had a lot of population growth,” Firestone said.
Beck has strongly advocated for establishing an independent commission to redraw the lines after the release of the 2020 census numbers in September.
“I hope that time constraints, as far as when we get the census and when we have to have the new districts drawn, will allow us to do that,” Beck said.
A vocal group has called for an independent redistricting commission for years. Bruce Miller is a member of Citizens for Independent Redistricting Fort Worth.
“If this were the council that actually got the (independent commission) in place when the city went from eight to 10 districts, people would look back at this council and say, ‘Gee, what a bunch of heroes,’” Miller said. “They would be viewed in a very positive way, and it would set the whole tone for city government.”
Ann Zadeh, the former councilwomen for District 9 who ran unsuccessfully for mayor, was the lone ‘no’ vote when the council moved to finalize the redistricting process in April. It remains to be seen whether a new council will reverse that vote.
One of the arguments for keeping redistricting in the hands of the council members is that they are directly accountable to the voters. Rusty Fuller, who shares this sentiment, represents the North Fort Worth Alliance.
“I’m never in favor of taking things out of the hands of the voters,” he said.
At the time of the April council vote that threw out an independent redistricting commission, some council members also argued that the people appointed to a commission might not have the expertise to effectively do the job.
The latest effort to create an independent commission follows the work of a redistricting task force, which was established by the council to produce more equity in the process. The City Council created the redistricting task force after the Race & Culture Task Force, established in 2018, recommended a change in the census process.
Sal Espino, former councilman for District 2, served on the redistricting task force and recommended that the council establish an independent commission for the 2020 census. He said he thinks the new, younger council will be open to new perspectives. But, when it comes to redistricting, he isn’t sure where council members stand.
“It remains to be seen what direction the new council will give on whether they move forward with what the prior council had,” Espino said.
Miller sees the change in council as an opportunity for change in the status quo.
“None of them supported it. Now we have new council members and maybe they can get behind it, it’s an opportunity that I hope they don’t waste,” Miller said.
A roadmap to establishing an independent commission has already been created by Bill Schur, who was appointed to the redistricting task force by Mayor Price.
Espino said the addition of two districts creates a path forward for proportional representation for Hispanic residents. Despite Hispanics making up almost 40 percent of the population in Fort Worth, only one Hispanic member sits on the council.
When the city adds two new City Council districts to accommodate Fort Worth’s expanding population, Espino said the council could create two districts with a strong African American and Hispanic population. That would create at least the opportunity for two districts where minorities are represented by elected officials of color.
“People of color in those communities select the representative voice,” Espino said. “So, I think you can get there, but there has to be obviously the political will to do it.”
Rachel Behrndt is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter.
This article was updated June 11, 2021. The article has been updated to include a quote from Leonard Firestone who got back to the report after the initial deadline passed.