Activists have focused on Fort Worth’s City Council’s redistricting, but the Tarrant County Commissioners Court also is set to begin its process that will see three distinct sets of new maps.
Almost all the same commissioners who decided the current maps a decade ago will consider the county’s new precinct lines for commissioners, justices of the peace and constables.
“The main goal is to ensure that everything is divided fairly and equally,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner J.D. Johnson, who represents parts of North East Tarrant County including Azle and Watagua.
Two guaranteed departures — one from County Judge Glen Whitley and another from Commissioner J.D. Johnson — will change the makeup of the court after the 2022 election.
“We may see real significant turnover on the court,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Gary Fickes, who represents parts of North East Tarrant County, including Keller, Grapevine and Southlake.
At the county level, the commissioners create a precinct plan. There are four precincts in Tarrant County and one at-large election to choose the county judge.
Who is on the Commissioners Court and what are their parties
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley (R)
Roy Charles Brooks (D)
Devan Allen (D)
Gary Fickes (R)
J.D. Johnson (R)
Commissioner Charles Brooks has represented Precinct 1 in southwest Fort Worth since 2004. He said he doesn’t think the precinct plan will have dramatic changes in boundaries.
“But there will be some issues about balancing population,” Brooks said. “I don’t know who’s going to gain and lose (population)… Those issues are yet to be dealt with.”
The census numbers were released Thursday. The Commissioners Court will use those numbers to create a map to be used in county-wide elections for the next decade.
The redistricting process on the county level will look similar to the 2011 process. The Commissioners Court will discuss hiring an outside contractor to produce the maps next Tuesday.
“The commissioners are usually hands-on when creating the map, and we will run it through the consultant for issues of legality,” Brooks said.
Tuesday, the commissioners court discussed hiring Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLC, a law firm out of Austin that specializes in municipal redistricting but delayed a vote until next week.
Commissioner Brooks asked that the vote be delayed because he “is not ready to vote on this issue today.” The Commissioners Court then moved to place the vote on the agenda for next Tuesday.
“The sooner you get people engaged the better because counties are in a tight timeframe but we can certainly deal with a week,” Robert Heath, who represented the firm at the meeting, said.
In 2011, after the initial map was produced, the commissioners held a public hearing. After the plan was initially approved, it was available to view in the Administration Building, 100 E. Weatherford St. in downtown Fort Worth, and on the Tarrant County web portal.
Other than some chances for public input, redistricting on the county level is fairly straightforward, according to the commissioners.
“We come up with a plan. There’s some horse-trading that goes on, and ultimately we adopt a plan and redistricting is done for the next decade,” Brooks said.
The racial and ethnic makeup of the commissioners court is not reflective of the county’s population. New census numbers reveal that the growth of minority populations in Texas continue to outpace the growth of white populations.
“Tarrant County is certainly a more diverse county today than I think it was 10 years ago,” Fickes said. “So those issues will be looked at.”
Hispanic population: Grew by 137,930 to 620,907
White population: Declined by 32,251 to 904,884
Black population: Grew by 96,123 to 358,645
Asain Population: Grew by 44,405 to 127,783
Hispanic people now make up 29% of Tarrant County
White people now make up nearly 43% of Tarrant County
Black people now make up nearly 17% of Tarrant County
Asian people now make up 6% of Tarrant County
Brooks said the commissioners try to maximize minority protection for the African American and Hispanic communities by creating districts where minorities have an opportunity to be elected.
“And I hope that that will be our philosophy going forward,” Brooks added.
The commissioner noted that since the last map was produced, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected parts of the Voting Rights Act. Now, several states, including Texas, can change election laws without federal approval.
Brooks thinks that puts a responsibility on the shoulder of local officials in charge of creating redistricting maps.
“We will be counting on the good faith of each other to do the right thing for minority populations,” Brooks said.
The county will hold public hearings about redistricting. The time and place of those meetings are to be determined.
Brooks said it is important to get involved with the government at the county level. The county government is responsible for providing health care to low-income residents, administration of the criminal justice system, child protection and child welfare, and emergency assistance.
“It matters who you elect to the Commissioners Court,” Brooks said. “You should be interested in who you elect as commissioners.”
Rachel Behrndt is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by grants from the Amon G. Carter and Sid W. Richardson foundations. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.