Denton County

Denton County Commissioners Call Special Meeting on Redistricting

It's one of the fastest growing counties in the country. Growth is the reason Denton County commissioners are calling for a redistricting plan they hope to complete this summer.  But late Tuesday afternoon, lawmakers announced they will hold a special meeting on the plan, following backlash from some community members.  

A notice posted on the county web site reads: "Discussion and consideration of request for redistricting, and any possible action.  Commissioner Precinct 1."

When Denton County commissioners announced plans to redraw precinct lines this past spring, critics took notice. A small group which spoke against the plan several times in recent weeks had their chance to speak out again Tuesday morning, when the plan was put on the commissioners court meeting agenda for discussion.

Critics of the plan say it's a case of gerrymandering. Some are threatening to sue.

"This is not the time to redistrict," said Lilyan Prado Carrillo, president of the Denton County chapter of The League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC.

"There is no legal requirement for the court to redistrict," added Will Fisher, an attorney from Flower Mound.

Some accuse the Republican body of gerrymandering. Others say redistricting would be discriminatory.

"We are concerned that the county's redistricting lines would decrease the Hispanic, minority, maybe even the democratically-inclined voting populations," said Prado Carrillo. "If it was to be intentionally split right now for whatever reason before the elections next year."

Commissioner Hugh Coleman proposed the redistricting in 2016, and brought the issue to the table again recently. He represents Precinct 1, which includes much of the northern part of the county.

"It's permissive," said Coleman of the redistricting plan. "We are allowed to redistrict if we think the precincts are out of whack."

Coleman's precinct includes the fast-growing 380 corridor. Highlighting the disparity, he points to population estimates which show about a 250,000 people living in Precinct 1, compared to about 170,000 in the county's least populated precinct. Coleman says the disparity makes it more difficult to effectively serve his constituents.

"We've altered our precincts a little bit every two years anyway," he said. "We're going to do a little more of a wholesale change and re-apportion to get closer to being even."

After backlash about the possibility of using voter registration data in redistricting, lawmakers said Tuesday they will only use census data in redrawing precinct lines. But critics say 2010 census data is outdated.

The potential use of 2017 population estimate surveys was met by threats of lawsuits. Denton attorney Richard Gladden told commissioners he has four residents who are willing to be part of a potential lawsuit, depending on which population data the county chooses to use. And he says a lawsuit will be costly to the county.

"You need to get some real lawyers in here to tell you what you're doing," said Gladden. Because you have no idea what you're doing."

A public hearing on the redistricting plan was announced Tuesday.  It is scheduled for July 9.  Either way, commissioners say it is likely redistricting will happen again, after the 2020 census.

"The commissioners court as a whole believes the need for redistricting is imminent," said Andy Eads, Denton County Judge. "And will only become more as growth continues."

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