March 02, 2007
No Council redistricting till 2010

The on again, off again move to redraw Houston's City Council districts while adding in two new ones is off again.

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."

I don't know. I can certainly see the argument for waiting. It seems to me that unless we planned a special election in there somewhere, we wouldn't have anything in place until 2009. If that's the case, then waiting one more cycle so that the 2010 Census numbers can be used strikes me as reasonable enough. Of course, we may not have that data in time to draw new boundaries by 2011, especially if there's litigation involved. How much longer do we need to wait when we're reasonably sure we're at 2.1 million people now? 2013? Later? The Lege has a hard deadline for when it has to draw new lines, but the city has no such requirement - barring a court order, anyway.

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

Your right, we ought to start looking at the districts sooner rather than later. Everyone should have their voice on council.

Posted by: Brian Cweren on March 4, 2007 3:26 PM