While fear dominates Wall Street after the S&P’s downgrade of the nation’s debt rating, McKinney’s city leaders are dealing with issues at home – presenting a balanced budget without raising taxes and the task of setting new voting districts.
After attending Monday night’s (August 8) public hearing on the subject of redrawing the lines that make up the city’s single member voting districts, I remind readers that there is a process in place to address necessary change, even though change is often difficult and we don’t always embrace it.
Following Mayor Brian Loughmiller’s opening comments, which reminded the public that the purpose of the meeting was to provide an opportunity for residents to give input to the redistricting process, Bob Heath, of the Austin law firm, Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta, LLP, further explained the process of redistricting.
Heath said that the city had come up with a plan, Plan I, to use as a base to work from during the public hearings. The next step will be that council will take the comments and suggestions provided by residents and go back to work to ascertain if those suggestions comply with the legal stipulations required in the redistricting process. There will be another opportunity for public input at the September 6 council meeting before a proposal is submitted to the Department of Justice.
“This is not a final plan,” Heath reminded residents, “but it is easier to have something concrete to work from. Legally we have to get each single member district close to a population of 32,000 while complying with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 “
McKinney residents Alonzo Tutson who lives in Dist. 1, and Curtis Rath, who lives in Dist. 2, are upset with Plan 1 because they say it spreads Distrcit 1 into a large geographic area that isn’t compact and allows the possiblity that someone from Stonebridge could potentially be the representative for that district, brought a redistricting plan, the Citizens Rath Tutston Map, to the meeting for council’s consideration.
A few individuals spoke out in support of the Citizens Map and commented that they could not support the city’s Plan 1 (see attached map below) because it didn’t take into consideration the growth that was certain to come to the north and west sections of the city during the next ten years. Marta Gore (resident of Dist. 4), who serves as a board member of the McKinney Economic Development Committee, said that District 1 is being penalized because of low voter turnout in the past and that the city’s proposed plan presents and inconsistent flow geographically and a lack of central polling places. She also accused the council of having “special interest” with regard to their plan.
Rath said he was disturbed by the lack of transparency with the redistricting process, and that the information surrounding the redistricting process was difficult to obtain. Rath thinks his plan would better serve the long term interests of the community. He said that Plan 1 could easily provide the opportunity for four or five people who live in Stonebridge Ranch to be members of council all at one time, and that the growth that is expected north and west of U.S. 380 would completely dilute the voting power of District 1.
Some members of the community, including former Councilman Pete Huff (At-Large), spoke in support of the city’s Plan 1.
I’ve been following the process over recent weeks and being a 20-year resident of McKinney, I’ve watched the sometimes painful process of making community adjustments to deal with massive growth. McKinney’s population grew from 54,369 to 131,117 during the past 10 years, according to the U.S. Census and, of course, that growth brings significant change to our election process so that we, as voters, regardless if we actually do vote, have fair and equal representation.
I have found our council members to be very open about the process, and there is plenty of information to be found on the city’s web site. (under Redistricting 2011-2012) I have posted information about the process on TownSquareBuzz.com. If someones believes that the process is difficult, and not transparent, that will be his perception, but I have to ask…did he make the effort to contact his council representative personally to discuss the issue? Or, as so often is the case, did he (or you) just believe what others told him about “a lack of transparency and special interests and hidden agendas”?
Unlike representation at the state and federal level, let me remind you that our city officials, including our mayor, are readily accessible to our residents – they live here, they work here and they are part of our community. They face us, and mingle with us, each and every day, which, in my mind, makes it a heck of a lot easier for us to “hold them accountable” for their actions.
I have to confess, before I was in the community information/news business, I was apathetic. I didn’t pick up the phone to contact my District or At-Large council representative and find out for myself what was happening. I drank the Kool-Aid – I believed the word around town.
So my take on the redistricting issue? I’m glad it’s not my responsibility. I voted someone into office- Mr. Ricchi is my representative – who has been given my vote of confidence to do the right thing for our community. I have to trust that he will. I’m glad we have the opportunity to give input on issues such as this. I happen to feel that our city leaders do value input from citizens – it’s just that they can’t always make the decisions that we as individuals feel are best, simply because they have to look out for the entire district and city.
With regard to redistricting, it is mandated by law that adjustment of election boundaries can only be based on the population as reported by the 2010 Census, not projected population. What if the projected population growth doesn’t come as rapidly as anticipated because of our current economic situation? We can’t base representation on possible growth. Lines will be redrawn after the 2020 Census if the population growth warrants another change at that time. Do you realize that for District 1 that is only three elections? It’s not like whatever plan is decided on this time around will be in place until the turn of the next century.
Bottom line, in my mind, is that there will have to be compromises on all fronts. Maybe Plan 1 isn’t the best plan, but maybe the Citizens for Rath Tutston Plan isn’t either. Maybe it’s somewhere in between. Perhaps both maps are a great basis for discussion to begin.
But who is to say, really, that our council has special interests and hidden agendas? It might lead some to wonder if those who make accusations don’t have some of their own? We can never truly get inside someone’s head – never really truly see their motives, but at some point we can usually see the cause in the effect. Time will tell.
Attached below are copies of the maps, the guidelines established by our council and the criteria for the redistricting process.
TownSquareBuzz is the perfect format for sharing your questions and thoughts about what’s going on around town. Just ask, and we will look into getting answers, or others in the community can chime in if they already know the answers. Post comments below, or begin a story thread in by clicking I Have a Story to Share on the Home Page. What are your thoughts on redistricting? Do you care? Will it impact your life?