A Fort Worth City Council map with two strong Hispanic majority districts emerged March 23 after an eight-hour meeting marked by high emotions.
The council advanced the map to a formal council vote March 29. The map is designed to create an opportunity for a second Hispanic representative to join the council and meet the goals of Hispanic advocacy groups, although advocates have expressed displeasure with the final map.
Map X Version 3, renamed Anna, with a horseshoe creates a new majority Hispanic district with a total Hispanic voting age population of nearly 59%.
The map of choice was hard fought by proponents of a strong Hispanic opportunity district. The selected map creates a partial southside Hispanic majority and combines the neighborhoods of Rosemont and Worth Heights with other Hispanic neighborhoods to the east.
“Our goal was to create some kind of horseshoe with a Hispanic opportunity district,” Mayor Mattie Parker said at the conclusion of the meeting. “We have achieved something pretty notable today, so I’m proud of y’all.”
The final map approved by the council is weaker for Hispanic representation than Map X Version 4 with a horseshoe, which was the preferred map of 81% of residents at a March 22 public comment meeting.
“I am disappointed,” said Pablo Calderon, an advocate for the Hispanic community and author of Map X Version 4 with a horseshoe. “Only 53% of the Hispanic Southside population will be included in the new map.”
This map does not create a guaranteed seat for a Hispanic council member, said Byrwec Ellison, an experienced map-maker who has regularly suggested specific adjustments to the council, said.
“This map is not the win that it could have been,” Ellison said.
For the majority of the meeting, it seemed as if Hispanic residents wouldn’t get the Hipanic-opportunity district they have been advocating for.
District 9 council member Elizabeth Beck, whose district is heavily impacted by the creation of a new Hisapnic opportunity district, broke down in tears as the council rejected the addition of a horseshoe to the final map.
“I have not come this far to stop fighting for a Latino opportunity district,” Beck said. “I would hope we can get to a horseshoe map that gives our residents a meaningful Hispanic opportunity district.”
As the council worked to refine the maps, circular arguments brought the council back to a map that aligned with the requests of residents. During an informal break in the proceedings, an argument broke out between Parker and Beck and audience member Pamela Young, of United Fort Worth, who accused the council members of ignoring the concerns of residents.
The council will vote on the map to be finally approved at its next City Council meeting at 10 a.m. March 29, in council chambers at City Hall 200 Texas St., Fort Worth 76102
The final map resolved notable concerns voiced by residents during public comment, including:
- Panther Island will be in District 2.
- The Riverside Alliance will be together in District 11.
- South Hemphill heights will be in District 11.
- The residential parts of Rosemont will be in District 11.
- A portion of Polytechnic Heights will go to District 11 along Vaughn Boulevard – The portions that were predominantly Hispanic were moved into District 11 and District 8 will keep the Rosedale corridor — including Texas Wesleyan University — in District 8, using Vickery and Beach as a divider.
- Eastern Hills will be in District 11.
- Old Handley, west of Loop 820, will be in District 11.
- The entirety of Wedgwood will be in District 9.
- Clark Road will be in District 6.
The final meeting was full of disputes that resembled other redistricting battles among council members throughout the months-long, divisive process.
At one point a conflict over the Polytechnic Heights neighborhood fractured the council in two. Council members Chris Nettles and Jared Williams have been closely aligned throughout redistricting meetings. When Map Version 4 with a horseshoe moved the Poly neighborhood out of District 8, Nettles split and supported a map without a horseshoe.
“It’s distasteful and disrespectful,” Nettles said of the map.
Deliberations continued through breaks as the council members made granular adjustments to boundary lines. The final adjustments to the maps were made completely outside of public view.
The most notable change made outside of the public meeting was adjustments to the Riverside Alliance in east Fort Worth; residents have asked to be combined into one council district.
Before the lengthy lunch break, Version 3 with a horseshoe split the Riverside Alliance in two. Council members resolved the issue outside of the public meeting.
“I think the residents of Riverside will be thrilled to be united into one City Council district,” Rick Herring, moderator of the Riverside Alliance, said.
Earlier in the meeting, the council went into executive session to receive legal advice from their counsel, Philip Arnold with Bickerstaff Heath Delgado and Acosta. In a summary of the discussions that took place during the closed session, Arnold cited Shaw v. Reno, which ruled a governmental body cannot draw a map based on race alone.
The council should be mindful, Arnold advised, to not make decisions about boundaries solely on the basis of race. Throughout the meeting, council members Leonard Firestone, Moon and Parker echoed concerns that creating the horseshoe would open the council up to possible legal challenges.
Legal concerns were another justification for moving forward with a map that doesn’t include a horseshoe amendment, Moon argued.
“The discussion is in the context of the legal advice, but the legal advice is not driving the discussion,” Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa said during a break.
Previously, legal advice from Arnold was made available to the public. As the council got down to the decision of the final map, those discussions needed to happen behind closed doors so council members could engage in a more candid conversation, Costa said.
Despite legal concerns, Arnold noted the city could argue there are other reasons to unite Rosemont and Worth Heights with other Hispanic neighborhoods to the east. For example, preserving communities of interest and proportionality for Hispanic residents in Fort Worth.
What is proportionality?
Proportionality is the concept that if a percentage of a city’s population is a certain race, the governmental body representing them should reflect that percentage. For example, if 30% of the city is Hispanic 2 of 10 councilmembers should be Hispanic, according to Arnold.
The council dropped other criteria that residents emphasized throughout public comment, including allowing room for population growth in North Fort Worth. Rusty Fuller, the president of the Northside Alliance, advocated for two new districts north of Loop 820.
“This political stuff dragged out far too long, but what happened, happened. We’ll deal with the consequences just like we have been since I started advocating for the Northside,” Fuller said.
The meeting was a revolving door of council members as deliberations stretched late into the afternoon. When the map was finally passed, Firestone was absent.
Ellison summed up the proceedings of the day in a sentence: “It was pure theater.”
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. 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.