Mayor Bill White has decided against adding two single-member districts to the City Council, delaying a move that some believe would offer Houston's growing population more focused representation.
White had largely abandoned the idea last summer. But new city estimates put the population at 2,231,335, a figure that could trigger a charter provision requiring new council districts when the city's population exceeds 2.1 million.
The city's legal department, however, advised White last month that those estimates didn't meet the "stringent standard" in federal law for using noncensus data in redistricting, according to a two-page memo obtained by the Houston Chronicle.
"The 10-year census figures have a presumption of correctness, and that's a hard burden to overcome," White said this week. "If somebody challenged our redistricting, they would prevail under federal law."
He said new seats will be "virtually certain" after the 2010 Census.
"Part of the requirement for redistricting is that you know the details down to the census-tract level -- the precinct level -- and we don't have numbers of that detail. So I don't believe it's warranted under the City Charter," White said.
But former Councilman Carroll Robinson said the charter provision, which resulted from the settlement of a voting-rights lawsuit in the 1970s, clearly gives the city leeway to use other data.
"The city discriminated in the past. To remedy that past discrimination, they put together a single-member district plan with room for growth in the future," he said. "You can use the best available data, and it's not just the census."
If there's some way to prepare for the 2010 Census so that we can be reasonably sure of having new districts ready for the 2011 election, then I think waiting makes sense. If not, then I think we ought to conduct a more detailed study as Council Member Green suggests. Maybe we can make it work and maybe we can't, but we ought to try.Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 02, 2007 to Local politics | TrackBack