As usual, following the census, lines must be redrawn for state and local voting districts and the decision surrounding where those lines will be drawn often becomes a hot topic. This year is no different. Redistricting, or the process by which the boundaries of elective districts are periodically redrawn to maintain equal representation on the basis of population, is often another reason our representatives become prematurely grey.
Some of McKinney's city leaders are not particularly happy with the redistricting map that was approved by the Collin County Commissioners at their August 16 meeting. (Click to see approved map). The County Commissioners have been tasked with redrawing lines that equalize voting precints within the county, adhering to guidelines set by the Department of Justice. One person, one vote is the over-riding principle that must be followed.
The results of the 2010 U.S. Census indicate that the current “optimal population” for each precinct is 195,585, so the five commissioners have the responsibility for carving up the county to provide fair representation for all municipalities within Collin County.
Reaction to the presentation of the county's proposed realignment came from McKinney's Chamber of Commerce. The Board of Directors' Chairman, Billy Leonard, said the Chamber is concerned that the map approved by the County Commissioners was not available for public review and comment. He also said the Chamber Board feels that this decision has a substantial impact on representation for McKinney and also splits neighborhoods and communities with similar business interests and concerns.
"Redistricting is a difficult task that the City, County and State have all had to tackle recently, and it is important that it be an open and transparent process," Leonard said. "The Chamber believes that the map as approved unnecessarily divides established neighborhoods that have very active engaged residents and voters and does not use major arteries to geographically clarify precinct boundaries."
County Judge Keith Self said that he was surprised to hear about the negative reaction to the approved map from the city and from the McKinney Chamber of Commerce. Self said that the Commissioners' Court made the redistricting process public in early August and until Monday (August 22), the court had not received a single comment, pro or con, from any group or citizen.
Self further commented that there have been "few, if any" responses from anyone other than McKinney's city leaders or from the McKinney Chamber.
"The vast bulk of comments received were formatted alike and obviously stemmed from a single source. This seems to be an effort to support a particular candidate in an upcoming election, not a concern about adequate representation for McKinney," Self said.
That candidate that Self is referring to is most likely McKinney resident and Chamber board member Ray Eckenrode, who publically announced his candidacy for County Commissioner Precint 3 on August 16.
In a statment to TownSquareBuzz.com, Eckenrode said, "McKinney's Chamber represents 39,000 employees and 1,200 business and has been present and active for all redistricting affecting its community, ranging from the municipal to state level. McKinney currently has four candidates who have each announced in the Precinct 3 race and the unanticipated new map affects businesses, congregations, neighbors, and those that wish to support them. If it weren't for groups such as the Chamber, or local concerned citizens, monitoring and educating on redistricting, there would be plenty of people on election day confused and wondering why their ballot is different from their neighbor's."
City Manager Jason Gray is concerned that the proposed realignment "takes a very active portion of our community out of the Precinct that represents the vast majority of the City, and places it into a precinct in which the vast majority of the constituents are in Frisco and Plano." Gray also said that although the city is usually aligned with positions of our neighborhing cities, on occasion those positions may not be in the best interest of the City of McKinney. He feels the city would be better served to have a Commissioner in a precinct that is more directly aligned with McKinney’s interests.
At the August 22 regular meeting of the Commissioners' Court, Gray submitted an alternative map during public comments. The objective of the alternative map is to provide more balanced districts. (See attached document.)
"I believe that it is reasonable that all of McKinney could be represented by one Commissioner - the population as reported by the last census is just over 131,000 - and then that Commissioner would also have to have about 60,000 people from other areas (to reach the optimal population of 195,585) in the County," Gray said. "Practically speaking, McKinney is already split between Precinct 3 and Precinct 1 – we would just like that split to not be enlarged more than it already is."
After the approved map was presented, the Board of Director's of the McKinney Chamber of Commerce drafted a resolution in response, which includes the following directive:
"The McKinney Chamber of Commerce desires that the Commissioners' Court consider and adopt the 'City of McKinney Proposal' as Collin County's final redistricting plan."
County Commissioner Joe Jaynes (Precint 3), will not be running for re-election next year, however, he said he can certainly understand the concerns raised by city leaders.
Jaynes also said that the commissioners probably could have done better with regard to presenting the map, but explained that for months they had dozens of versions of maps under consideration but didn't receive any input from the public.
"I understand where they (McKinney city leaders) are coming from. The population growth is significant, and that will probably require parts of the city to be split (in this realignment). I think that McKinney can understand that most major cities have more than than one representative serving their city," Jaynes said.
Self said that now that concerns have been raised the Commissioners Court has agreed to add an agenda item to the September 6 court agenda to again allow public comment. Commissioner Jaynes also said he open to taking a look at the map that McKinney City Manager Jason Gray presented.
"The Collin County Commissioners' Court believes in and practices transparency, even after a decision is made," Self said.
All this debate brings to my mind this question - Is it possible for a County Commissioner to do what is in the best interest of Collin County as a whole, while, at the same time, doing what's in the best interest of a particular city?
That asked, it seems that our County Commissioners assumed that they had made every effort to "get the word out" concerning the redrawing of voting precints. They should have presented the map they thought was best to the public for comment before "approving" it. I suppose they thought that not getting any input from the public was a silent approval to do what they thought was best. What they failed to consider is that most of us need a starting point to think about - a draft of "something concrete" to start from for discussion.
I don't doubt that this realignment stuff is a difficult task. I assume that our five elected commissioners had the best interest of our county at heart as they worked to fairly balance the populations of the ever changing face of Collin County.
But, more questions come to mind....is this realignment about personal political agendas? (I know - I'm growing more and more cynical) Can fairness, efficiency, and common sense prevail? No favoritism. No gerrymandering. No bull.
In the end, it is good to know that our county leadership is willing to hear us and perhaps reconsider their decision.
What do you think?
The City of McKinney will host a public hearing to discuss the redistricting options on Monday, August 29 at 5:30 p.m. in the City Council Chamber located in the City Hall, 222 N. Tennessee.
The Collin County Commissioners' Court will discuss redistricting and hear public comments at the regular meeting on Tuesday, September 6 at 1:30 p.m. In a change of location for this meeting, the Commissioners Court session will be held in the Collin County Courthouse, 2100 Bloomdale Road in the Old Central Jury Room on the first floor.