The Fort Worth City Council spent four hours Tuesday making changes to maps they created with little to show for it at the end of the day.
The council decided to push the redistricting process back and meet again Tuesday to finally vote on a map to put forward for public input.
The map that was supposed to be chosen Tuesday would have been put forward for residents to view and respond to at four listening sessions in the community in the coming weeks. Instead, the first public comment meeting will be pushed to take place next Thursday, and the council will reschedule the following listening sessions, or cancel them altogether.
The council was tasked with choosing between a map proposed by council member Chris Nettles and another map proposed by Cary Moon. Later, Carlos Flores said he would also like his map to be considered by the full council.
“The time that (was spent) to clean up (Nettle’s map) should be afforded to (my map),” Moon said.
The sticking point was over whether a district with a Hispanic population of 50% could be considered a minority-opportunity district. Philip Arnold, a lawyer hired to analyze the maps, explained that determining the likelihood a district might vote for a certain candidate is subjective. But generally, for a Hispanic candidate to be elected, the Hispanic voting-age population in a district must be well over 50%.
“This is due to the younger age of the Hispanic population, lower citizenship levels compared to African Americans, less voter cohesion, and typically less voter registration,” the analysis said.
The bulk of the time used by the council Tuesday was used making changes to Nettle’s map that would create a stronger Hispanic opportunity district and equalize the population between all 10 districts.
“What the public is seeing right now is a very reason why they don’t think council members need to be involved in crafting maps,” council member Gyna Bivens said.
All maps created by the council have to be based on Map X, produced by resident Pablo Calderon. Map X was chosen by the redistricting task force to advance for consideration by the City Council before making changes and passing a final map.
“There’s never any guarantee,” Calderon said. “I like to put an emphasis on the word opportunity. Just give us a fair opportunity.”
Advocates for transparent redistricting expected City Council members to draw the maps publicly at the meeting. Instead, the council made changes to the maps before the meeting and then gave brief explanations for the changes publicly. The most common justification for shifting lines was maintaining communities of interest.
The council broadened its criteria for considering communities of interest. Previously, the task force considered only registered communities. Task force members agree that communities of interest that did not go through the formal registration process should still be preserved.
Nettles advocated for voting on the map Tuesday. He said the council cannot continue making decisions at the 11th hour and complained that the council often gets presented with new information too late in the process.
“Come next Tuesday, is there anything else that we need to be aware of as we are trying to fix this map?” Nettles asked.
The map chosen by the council Tuesday would have gone through a month of scrutiny followed by another chance for council members to make adjustments to the map. Bivens said fellow council members will have to accept that all won’t get what they want.
“So you’ve got to figure out how do we take care of the people?” Bivens said.
Mayor Mattie Parker ended the lengthy discussion by calling it a painful process.
“People may not love the way we did it, but I can’t think of a more transparent way to do it,” Parker said. “So with that, we’re good. We’re adjourned.”
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com 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.