Some North Texas cities may be just weeks away from consequential redistricting decisions. This is something residents should pay careful attention to in the coming months.
The U.S. Census Bureau is set to release block-level data on Aug. 16, less than a month from now. Another release of more user-friendly data will follow in September. Cities will have months to plan before districts have to be set for the spring 2023 municipal elections, but some cities are already ramping up commissions and community engagement events.
In Fort Worth, city staff have been hosting a series of 11 public meetings about redistricting. Five of those are training workshops that equip residents with the knowledge and even the software tools to redraw City Council boundaries. Attendees are encouraged to draw their own maps, and submit them to the city.
“All of this is in line with the City Council’s intent to make the redistricting process as transparent and participatory as possible,” Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa told attendees to the first workshop July 12.
In addition to those meetings, Fort Worth has made what Redistricting Task Force Chair Lorraine C. Miller called a genuine and concerted effort to publicize the process.
“Sometimes, the city will put things on the city website and then say, ‘OK, we’ve informed the public,’” Miller said. “But how many people go to the city’s website every day? If you don’t, you won’t know a flat flying fajita about what’s going on with the city.”
So her task force conducted a media blitz. They sent press releases. Miller was interviewed by KXAS-TV (NBC5).
The first public hearing on redistricting, all the way back in January, was viewed online by more than 7,800 people, according to Michelle L. Gutt, director of Fort Worth’s Communications and Public Engagement Department.
“We had a lot of discussions about trying to capitalize on the awakening in Fort Worth lately. Because of the summer of protests, overall, I think people are much more aware,” Miller said. “We wanted to piggyback on that to let people know what’s going on.”
In Dallas, the effort is far behind that pace, but city officials say there’s plenty of time.
Brett Wilkinson, the city’s director of the office of government affairs, said 10 of the 15 seats on the redistricting commission have been filled, and he expects that body to be up and running by the end of August.
“If we’re still talking about this after the first of the year, that would be alarming,” City Council member Paula Blackmon said.
Wilkinson said news will be made available on the city’s website as the process ramps up. We encourage readers and residents to participate and stay informed, to ensure they know more than “a flat flying fajita” about what’s going on in their city, to use Miller’s phrase. As Miller told us: “Redistricting is such an important, local government function. It really affects people’s lives and how they are represented.”
Fort Worth’s socially aware, proactive approach will reap benefits in more community engagement and public trust. When government is transparent and connected to constituents, it can be more effective.
“I think a lot of why we had a big push for an independent redistricting commission was because folks felt the council would go into a room to themselves and then they would start horse trading,” Miller said. “The public loses in that scenario.”
She’s right. We encourage Dallas and other cities to follow Fort Worth’s lead here to build a robust community engagement program that invites participation and dispels skepticism.