by SEAN BATURA
The Hays County Commissioners Court on Tuesday voted 3-2 to redistrict the county in a way that splits Kyle into three commissioner precincts and removes from Precinct 1 almost all its current territory west of Interstate 35.
The court voted for Plan M2 which was among four plans under consideration after commissioners whittled down the field of possible redistricting maps from 10 last week. At that time, Jones and Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley lined up behind Jones’ Plan M2 while Pct. 4 Commissioner Ray Whisenant and Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe lined up behind Whisenant’s Plan O or P. All that remained to be seen was where County Judge Bert Cobb stood and, on Tuesday, he picked Plan M2.
In Kyle, the new map moves the Hometown Kyle and Arroyo Ranch subdivisions from Precinct 2 to Precinct 4 and moves the Steeplechase and Amberwood subdivisions from Precinct 2 to Precinct 1. In Buda, Precinct 2 keeps subdivisions west of FM 1626, including Ruby Ranch, that would have moved to Precinct 4 under Whisenant’s plan.
Of the 14 residents who spoke during the public hearing, none expressed support for Plan M2 and 12 spoke in favor of Plan O, most of them Kyle residents opposed to splitting the city into three precincts to the extent Plan M2 does. One critic of Plan M2 pointed out that only two Kyle city council members, Mayor Lucy Johnson and member David Wilson, will continue to live in Precinct 2, which has traditionally included Kyle. The others will live either in Precinct 4 (Brad Pickett, Jaime Sanchez and Becky Selbera) or Precinct 1 (Russ Huebner and Diane Hervol).
“Kyle’s going to continue to grow and generate money for the county, we’ll continue to pay our city taxes and our county taxes. However, our voice will be split three ways on how to spend that money,” said Joel Kirkby, who lives in Hometown Kyle.
Jones, a Kyle Republican, said he chose a redistricting plan that would retain as many of Precinct 2’s unincorporated areas as possible. He has also argued that he needs to keep the western Buda boxes to keep road projects like the FM 1626 widening and construction of SH 25 SW moving.
“Residents that live outside incorporated areas depend on the county for more of their services than the citizens of the cities,” Jones said “…I have to make a choice between the unincorporated areas or the incorporated areas. I know you disagree with that. If I lived in Hometown Kyle, I’d feel the same way. But I have to be responsible for the community of Precinct 2 as a whole.”
Rolando Rios, the county’s redistricting attorney, said some people, in his experience, believe they have more influence if their community is split among multiple single-member districts.
Hays County Judge Bert Cobb (R-San Marcos), who refrained from favoring a map until Tuesday, cast the deciding vote for M2.
“At the request of some at the previous meeting, the voting age population…by precinct was explored more in the four plans that were done and for the precincts,” Cobb said. “And according to these non-partisan numbers, Map M2 is more equitable by the voting age population percentages.”
Cobb did not say precisely how M2’s voting age population figures are more equitable than the other plans.
Under Plan O, the proportion of Hispanics among people of voting age in Precinct 1 would be 9.9 percentage points more than the proportion of Anglos. Under Plan M2, the proportion of Hispanics among people of voting age in Precinct 1 would be only 1.9 percentage points more than the proportion of Anglos.
Rios, hired to help prepare the redistricting maps for submission to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for review, said any of the final four maps under consideration satisfy constitutional requirements and would likely be approved by the DOJ.
The county opted last week to disclose voting age population percentages compared to total population rather than to total voting age population, though officials provided enough raw information for the public to do the math.
Plan M2 states that Hispanics of voting age would constitute 34.41 percent of Precinct 1’s total population under that plan, Anglos of voting age would comprise 32.96 percent of the precinct’s total population, black’s of voting age would be 4.8 percent, and “Other” would constitute 1.73 percent of the total population.
Reasoning from the population data on Plan M2, 46.5 percent of the total voting age population of Precinct 1 would be Hispanic, 44.6 percent would be Anglo, 6.6 percent would be African American, and 2.3 percent would be “Other.”
Reasoning from the population data on Plan O, 50.9 percent of the total voting age population of Precinct 1 would be Hispanic, 41 percent would be Anglo, six percent would be black, and 2.1 percent would be “Other.”
Rios said how the data was displayed was not important because “Precinct 1 has always elected a Hispanic even though less than half the voting age population is Hispanic.” Rios said Precinct 1 voters usually elect someone of an ethnic minority because the precinct has a large minority population and because it has many Democrats.
In all four plans, Hispanics comprise the largest voting age population in Precinct 1, while Anglos comprise the largest voting age population in the other precincts. Rios said redistricting plans cannot legally result in smaller voting age populations. Rios said none of the proposed commissioner precinct plans result in voting age population shrinkage. Rios said voting age population figures bear more scrutiny in a “highly polarized” community where minority populations fail to elect minority representatives.
Plan M2 has the largest population deviation of the four plans that were under consideration. The federal government requires 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 population deviation among the four plans range from 9.44 percent (in Plan M2) and 5.25 percent (in Plan P).
Rios said the DOJ may take 60-120 days to approve Plan M2. The county cannot hold elections until the federal government approves a new redistricting plan, said Rios.
UPDATED 3:16 p.m. AUG. 17:
[Comments from Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley, who was active in the redistricting process, were omitted from an earlier version of this story for space.]
Commissioner Will Conley said, ”I like the diversification of [Plan M2]. I like the idea that we aren’t necessarily caught up on these small little kingdoms. Each commissioner has a fairly large rural and urban area and many different jurisdictions within their precinct.”
”Ultimately the decision on what happened in precinct 2 was up to the elected officials and citizens in Precinct 2. … I put a lot of faith and trust in representatives of that area and what they felt was best for the citizenship.”
”If you broke it down from a precinct standpoint, probably 97-99 percent of people still live in the same precinct as they did [before redistricting] under very difficult conditions of severe population change. Let’s not forget the silent 95 percent who seem to be very please with where they ended up.”Email | Print
Something of a leap, as far as I’m concerned, to say that those who did not become involved in the redistricting process are more than simply “pleased,” with where they ended up, but that they’re “very pleased.” Silence does not equal consent. It simply equals silence. And why the silence? Could be any number of reasons, among them: simple unawareness of what was occurring; lack of understanding of a very technical, legalistic process; the overriding and time-consuming activities of everyday work and family lives; the expectation that a relative, friend, or neighbor who was involved could speak for many who were unable to find the time to become directly engaged. The fact still remains that there was a large and sustained degree of citizen involvement in Hays County redistricting once the process was opened to the public — in person, at hearings, at open houses, and through emails and phone calls. And the evidence we’ve seen indicates that those who were heard generally did not agree with direction of the Court’s majority on this issue. It is not my point here to compare the merits of one plan over another. But it is not my intention to question a conclusion that does not appear to be fact based.
I echo Jon’s point that silence does not mean consent — and he gives many valid reasons for that silence.
Also, I agree that the Commissioners Court seemed to pay scant attention to the fact that 12 of the 14 speakers
at the last public hearing on redistricting expressed their support of Map O, but the judge and 2 commissioners
(Conley and Jones) voted for Map M2 anyway, making it the Court’s choice.