Tyler residents urge city council to approve independent commission for redistricting

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TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Concerned citizens packed the Tyler City Council meeting Wednesday morning with many urging them to approve an independent commission to work with the council for redistricting.

Like federal and state congressional maps, the lines to city council districts are re-drawn every 10 years after the completion of the Census.

However, due to a change in federal law, the final map does not have to be approved by the Department of Justice. In the past, newly drawn maps were reviewed by the federal government to make sure that they were not racially biased.

With that requirement gone, Tyler residents urged the council to approve an independent citizen commission that has two representatives from each district work with the council to help draw the lines.

They stressed that the commission would not be considered an oversight body, but one that would work with the council to ensure proper representation in each district, with respect to both population size and race.

Eleno Licea, who is a local activist, suggested to the council that two districts be added to the city to accommodate better representation of the large Hispanic community. There has not been a Hispanic council member in the city for nearly four decades.

We currently have two districts that are African-American districts. That’s just kind of what they are. We currently have zero Hispanic districts. But we’ve got 25% of the population. 25 % of your beautiful city, of my beautiful city, is Hispanic. Yet, we have nobody around this area that represents that population. We just don’t.

Eleno Licea

Licea also cited that when the last Hispanic council member was in office, the Tyler population was around 75,000. It is projected that from the 2020 Census, it will stand around 110,000. Despite the growth, no new districts have been created.

There is no federal or state law that mandates how each city sets up council districts or how many people a single district can hold.

For instance, San Antonio has only 10 seats on its city council while Dallas has 14. This is despite the fact that San Antonio has roughly 1.5 million people, which is nearly 170,000 more than Dallas.

Many spoke of their love of Tyler. Dr. Otis Webster, a psychology professor at TJC, closed his remarks by saying that there is nowhere in the world that he would rather live.

Councilwoman Shirley McKellar, one of two Democrats on the council, said that she was in favor of such a commission.

The data from the 2020 Census will likely not be available until the end of September. That would leave the council with not a lot of time to create new maps. Candidate filing dates for the May 2022 elections is January 19.

David Stein, the GOP chairman of Smith County was the only speaker at the meeting to oppose the commission. He stated that while he would volunteer to serve if it was created, he did state that he trusted all seven members of the council to create fair maps.

There will be four spots on the council up for election in May:

  • Mayor (Incumbent: Don Warren)
  • District 2 (Broderick McGee)
  • District 4 (James Wynne)
  • District 6 (Brad Curtis)

All four have at least one more two-year term remaining and everyone but McGee can serve for another four years on the council. Tyler ordinance dictates that no council member can serve more than three two-year terms.

The council did not take action on forming a commission because on the official agenda it was listed as a presentation item to the public for how redistricting would work.

After the meeting, residents were speaking in the hallway about trying to put the proposal up for a vote as an action item. The next Tyler City Council meeting is Wednesday, July 14 at 9 a.m.

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