Last night the Fort Worth ISD voted 5-4 to table the latest redistricting plan that would have weakened minority voting strength in probably three of four minority-majority districts, according to opponents. (See Civil Rights or Civil Rights Lawsuit, blog, September 27.) The vote means that the district will not face the United Hispanic Council of Tarrant County in federal court — not yet.
Trustee Ann Sutherland, an Anglo, joined the current minority members, Juan Rangel, Carlos Vasquez, Christene Moss and TA Sims, in voting against the proposed new map, a vote that opponents of the map called a “civil rights victory.” The vote means that any action on redistricting could be postponed indefinitely since the board did not initiate any action to move forward on a new or revised redistricting map.
Bert Williams, chair of the board’s volunteer redistricting committee, that has been working for six months to find a plan that meets the requirements of the U.S. Voting Rights Act and also satisfies the board’s incumbents, some of whom lost chunks of their districts under the proposed map, was visibly angered by the vote. He said it would be hard to find a group of citizens to volunteer for other chores if the board was going to wind up ignoring their recommendations. “You might as well just do it yourselves,” he told the board.
Some on the board and other minority leaders say the plan presented last night was just that. They believe that some board members were too involved in asking the committee to redraw some of the original plans presented in order to protect their incumbencies and to weaken minority voting strength.
At one board meeting several weeks ago, trustees Judy Needham and Norm Robbins, both of whom voted against the tabling motion last night, said publicly that they had agreed to “swap” some precincts. Needham asked that the swaps be included in the new map, which they were.
At last night’s meeting Vasquez charged his colleagues on the board who voted against postponing a decision on the newest map did not want to accept the fact that Hispanics are gaining in numbers and influence. The Hispanic population has increased greater than any other has since the 2000 census, with the district’s Latino population now at more than 60 percent.
In another issue that was on last night’s agenda, Sutherland said she was “greatly disturbed” about a new board policy that was adopted last night (7-2) that allows the administration to access and read all of the trustees’ emails to and from their constituents, district employees, as well as each other. “This makes me very angry,” she said, claiming it is a violation of privacy and will have a chilling effect on constituents’ and employees’ confidence to speak candidly thru emails to board members. It is the same, she said, as opening someone’s private mail. “I think it is illegal as well,” she said.
Legal director Bertha Whatley, defending the new policy, told Sutherland that if anyone snooped “inappropriately” he or she would “get into trouble.” Sutherland said she does not know what exactly that means. Whatley was not available for comment when this blog was posted.