Fort Worth City Council Charter Election Plan needs fine tuning

republished with permission of author

(Fort Worth, TX., December 1, 2015) — We invariably hear about how important voting is. And it’s true that it is. But is it really true that voting is the only thing that matters and that it will always result in more representation? The answer is a resounding “NO.” Your vote may be diluted to the extent that it will have less or no impact. Your vote may not help elect candidates of your choice in an election?

Here on the Fort Worth City Council, a city with a nearly 35% Hispanic population and only one seat occupied by a Hispanic, it’s what is happening; we are severely underrepresented — disenfranchised.

Some people may ask, how is that possible? It’s all about how electoral district lines are drawn and by whom.

We’ve had the same 8-1 electoral system in place since the city council went to single-member districts in 1977. I have spent nearly thirty years studying this issue, starting after the 1990 U.S. Census. I got really involved after the 2000 census and even more so after the 2010 census. Several other people have been involved and this has been a key to the success we have achieved. We’ve been in many battles; we’ve won some, and lost some. Overall, we’ve made some progress. I have also been involved in FWISD redistricting. By federal law, mainly because of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to reflect changes in the population, redrawing electoral districts is mandatory. Over the last few years, there has also been so-called mid-decade redistricting. There are numerous examples of this.

This is all about the charter election next May 7.

The city council has decided to hold a charter election to changes the city’s charter. There are twenty-seven proposals that are slated to be on the ballot at this point and there have been a series of public hearings to receive input. One proposal is to increase the pay of city council members; another one, the length of city council terms, a limit on the terms they can serve in office, and yet another one to decide whether to stagger members’ terms. There are many proposals that are seemingly inconsequential to most people. The most important proposal to most of us is whether to increase the size of the council from an 8-1 to a 10-1 or 12-1. (We tried to convince the city council to adopt a 10-1 plan after the 2010 census, in 2012, and were not successful, although some tweaks in the existing 8-1 plan, particularly in district 9, helped us.)

This city charter election offers a unique opportunity to break new ground and bring Fort Worth into the twenty-first century. We urge the present
city council to change their mandate to the Charter Review Task Force. Here is one of our proposals: We propose that if the voters approve the enlargement of the number of council districts May 7, 2016, that districts be redrawn as soon as possible after that rather than having to wait until after the 2020 census—approximately until 2022. You asked for this election, complete the whole job rather than pass it to a future council! Put this question on the ballot and let the voters decide. That would be fair.

Increasing the size of the city council would better reflect the changes in the city’s population. Better geographic representation is needed; City Council District 4 is a good example of a district that is not compact as required by the voting rights act, with two main areas, one deep in the central city and the other in the Alliance area; although legally contiguous, the two areas are tied together by a narrow land strip along Interstate 35. District 2 also has two distinct areas. The bottom line is that all areas want and need the best representation possible. The same applies when it comes to minority representation. Hispanics, now 35% of the city’s population, for example, have always been disenfranchised in Fort Worth. It’s not enough for some city leaders to go around saying “We are proud of our diversity.” That diversity should be more closely be reflected on the city council: A diverse population, a diverse city council.

Without being disrespectful to the mayor and present city council members, we are also proposing that the re-drawing of council districts be taken out of the city council’s hands. I am sorry to say that this process has historically been about “incumbent protection” rather than what is best for all of us as a city. Put this question on the ballot and let the voters decide. Before you react to this, I suggest that you google what happened in Austin last year (2014), where a citizens group drew the maps that ended up with better representation for all groups. It worked very well and a similar citizens group will take up this task again in the future as it’s now part of the city’s charter there. There is no good reason why we can’t do the same thing here in Fort Worth.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about what I’ve written here. Many, many thanks for your support.

by Fernando Florez
Chairman, Redistricting Committee
United Hispanic Council of Tarrant County
2741 Hemphill; Fort Worth, Texas 76110
817.239.0578 ;