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Redistricting Commission Moves On ... With All Deliberate Speed

First order of business for the ICRC is the organization, not maps

By Elizabeth Pagano, Fri., Aug. 2, 2013

Redistricting Commission Moves On ... With All Deliberate Speed
Photo by John Anderson

The critique from the audience came early in the seventh meeting of the Independent Citi­zens Redistricting Com­mis­sion, the body charged with drawing maps for the eventual 10-district City Council. James Peter­son, who lives in Northwest Austin, told commissioners, "Most of the concerns ... so far have seemed to be organizational overhead – setting up the organization, the staff, financing, meetings, etc. ... The goal of the organization is the maps, not the organization."

The commissioners did not respond. Earli­er, Chair Magdalena Blanco had announced that the ICRC would be sampling a number of meeting formats. The July 24 format relegated all of the speakers to Citizens Com­mun­i­cation at the beginning of the meeting, but questions and responses to the speakers would wait until agenda item discussion. At that time, she explained, commission members could ask to have the speaker come back and answer questions – depending on available time.

From there, the meeting spiraled increasingly into what seemed an Ionesco play about bureaucracy. At one point, Blanco said she felt isolated from her fellow commissioners, and wondered aloud whether the commission should look into getting smaller, portable microphones (rather than the table microphones in City Hall's Boards and Commis­sions Room). "I like looking at your eyes. I get a lot more feedback that way. It's personal. That's my concern," said Blanco. "We do have 17 weeks to get to December 1, and so we don't want to rush too much, but we also want to have the process go smoothly."

Later, commissioners voted on whether they should decide whether the legal counsel should be hired on a contract basis or as an employee. They voted in favor of deciding – and subsequently, they voted on whether legal counsel should be hired on a contract or employee basis (see "City Redistricting Commission Wants Its Own Lawyer," July 26).

That vote wasn't immediate, however. Several motions were made, not all were seconded, and when Commissioner María Solís asked that each motion be followed through before moving on, Blanco said she was trying to avoid "blocking" the commission. The way she saw it, some motions "fall off the radar" through discussion. "If it doesn't fall off the radar, then I encourage you to please restate and come back to it," she said.

By the end of the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, the commission had decided to hire legal counsel on a contract basis and settled on a job description, since posted on the City Auditor's website. Operating under the presumption that the maps will not be subject to federal preclearance – perhaps a risky theory in light of the recent U.S. Depart­ment of Justice decision to pursue preclearance for Texas in federal court – the ICRC has until Dec. 1 to draw the maps.

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