by SEAN BATURA
County residents who addressed the commissioners court at a public hearing on Monday appeared divided between support for two redistricting plans: One that would split much of Kyle between three precincts and another that proposes to include a portion of Wimberley and all of Woodcreek and Dripping Springs in Precinct 4.
Because the Kyle area has grown so much over the last 10 years, commissioners must decrease Precinct 2’s population by about 13,000 people. Much of the redistricting debate thus far has been over what portions of Kyle should be included in the other precincts, notably Precinct 4. Every Kyle resident who addressed commissioners on Monday opposed putting large portions of Kyle in Precinct 4.
“Because if I’m put in [Precinct 4], you know damn good and well [Pct. 4 Commissioner] Ray Whisenant is going to represent Dripping Springs,” said Kyle resident John McDougall on Tuesday. “He’s not going to represent the 150 of us in Meadow Woods, or the people up in the county over here, his constituency is Dripping. People from Kyle don’t have anything in common with Dripping Springs.”
McDougall was among four Kyle residents who addressed commissioners at Monday’s redistricting hearing. The other Kyle residents were Esperanza Orosco, Lila Knight, and Diane Hervol. Hervol is a Kyle city councilmember, and she alone expressed no preference for any of the handful of redistricting plans under consideration by the county’s redistricting committee.
Hays County Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe, a San Marcos Democrat, and Hays County Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley, a Wimberley Republican, are on the county redistricting committee tasked with making a redistricting recommendation to the court. Also on the committee are Buda City Councilmember Sandra Tenorio, a prominent local Democrat, and Hays County Republican Party Chair Bud Wymore.
Orosco and McDougall said the redistricting committee should have its meeting open to the public.
Conley asked Knight and Kyle resident Mark LeMense — as well as fellow Republican Linda Kinney, Whisenant’s assistant — to leave a redistricting committee meeting on June 30. At the committee’s third meeting LeMense again attempted to attend and was asked to leave.
“My experience has been when people don’t like the results and they donít have a good response and rebuttal to those results, they cry ‘transparency’.” Conley said. “I think it’s just a tactic. This decision was made by the court to have a committee in this format and I think we worked well and had a fair process. You’re going to tell me that it’s not transparent to have two Democrats and two Republicans in a room, two females, two males, two minorities, two Caucasians? And that there’s something wrong going on? I just disagree with that.”
McDougall said he favors Redistricting Plan M1 as the “least offensive” choice, as it keeps more of Kyle together than most of the other plans. Plans M1 and M2 were created by and are preferred by Precinct 2 Commissioner Mark Jones, a Kyle Republican, and the plans differ from one another slightly in ways advantageous to either Conley or Ingalsbe.
Knight and Orosco expressed support for Plan N, which would include all of Dripping Springs, Woodcreek, and small portions of Wimberley, Buda, and Kyle in Precinct 4. Under Plan N, most of Wimberley would be in Precinct 3, most of Kyle and Buda would be in Precinct 2, and San Marcos would be in Precinct 1 and 3. Some southern portions of Kyle would be in Precinct 1 and Precinct 3, under Plan L. McDougall opposes Plan N, which he said leaves his neighborhood out of Precinct 2 and puts it in Precinct 4. McDougall said he lives about 1.25 miles from where the new Precinct 2 office building will be constructed.
Ingalsbe said she favors Plan N, though she said the court is unlikely to approve it. Ingalsbe said Plan N was created by a group of citizens including Kyle resident Bob Barton. Barton is the majority owner of Barton Publications Inc., which is one of three owners of Mercury Media San Marcos LLC. Conley said former Hays County Judge Eddy Etheridge participated in the creation of Plan N.
Wimberley Springs resident resident Barbara Hopson, during Monday’s public hearing, expressed opposition to Plan N.
“So this dilutes Wimberley’s influence on the court by quite a bit,” Hopson said. “While (Plan N) does leave Kyle and Buda intact, it divides up Wimberley so badly, and it really destroys the nature of our little area.”
Hopson favored Plan L4, which was created by Hays County Precinct 4 Commissioner Ray Whisenant (R-Dripping Springs). Dripping Springs resident Wally Kinney, who also addressed the court at Mondayís hearing, said he favors Plan L4.
Kinney said the benefits of Plan L4 are that it would put the western boundary of Precinct 2 along FM 1626 and would place the eastern boundary of Precinct 4 along the same road.
“So all of those people concerned about getting that road complete would essentially have two commissioners pushing for its completion instead of just one,” Kinney said. “It just seems logical to me. When you need three votes on that court to get anything done, all you have to do is rally the support of one other person and youíve got a done deal.”
Furthermore, Kinney said Plan L4 has the smallest population deviation of any map except Plan N. The federal government recommends the creation of districts with a total population deviation of no more than 10 percent between their most heavily populated district and the least populated district. The 10 percent deviation is measured against the “ideal” or target population for the governmental entity based on the most recent census.
Kinney worried most of the redistricting plans under consideration have deviations large enough to possibly trigger a review by the U.S. Justice Department.
Kinney said he opposes Plan N because the area along Highway 290 near Dripping Springs is growing fast enough that one precinct including the western part of the county would probably have to be radically redrawn in 10 years. Kinney expressed hope for Plan O.
Plan O puts the Hometown Kyle neighborhood in Precinct 2, unlike most of the other plans under consideration, including Plan L4. Whisenant created Plan O recently and only released it to his colleagues Monday morning. Plan O is not yet on the countyís website. Whisenant said he favors Plan L after Plan O. Whisenant also created Plan L4.
Hays County Judge Bert Cobb, a San Marcos Republican, and Conley said they do not yet have a preference regarding the redistricting plans under consideration.
Jones expressed support for the M1 or M2, both of which he created.
“Unfortunately, Kyle has grown so fast…that we had to lose some of the border communities around Buda, around Kyle, which was Hometown Kyle on the west, Blanco River Crossing and then Amberwood, Steeplechase and The Trails on the east side,” Jones said. “We tried every way we could to keep some of those back in, but when you have to lose 13,000 people, that was just, wasn’t possible.”
The county’s redistricting committee has yet to make recommendations to commissioners. There are two more public hearings on redistricting scheduled.
CORRECTION: This story originally said that Precinct 4 under Plan N would encompass Drippings Springs and Wimberley. A small part of Wimberley and its extraterritorial jurisdiction would be in Precinct 4 under Plan N, but most of Wimberley would be remain in Precinct 3.Email | Print