The City of Austin has established its new Citizen’s Redistricting Commission, a group of 14 citizens who will draw the city's first boundaries for city council districts.
In selecting candidates, city officials drew at random from a pool of qualified volunteers. Thursday night, the commissioners met to select candidates who would join them in the task of redistricting.
Most of the commissioners chosen at random are Hispanic, which brought to light a challenge of the selection process - ensuring racial and ethnic diversity.
Commissioner Mariano Diaz Miranda went into Thursday night’s meeting with one goal in mind – to select at least one African American commissioner with deep roots in the community. Some commissioners were leaning towards a black Latino candidate.
“I think if you choose an individual that is basically bi-cultural and lives in Circle C – you tell me that the African American community is going to accept that person as their representative. And I think that we’ll have problems with that," Miranda says.
Ensuring geographic diversity in representation was also a goal. Commissioners examined a series of maps that instead of names had numbers sprinkled on them indicating where a candidate lives. Commissioner Maria Solis noted that many candidates live up and down I-35 near the city’s center.
"Maybe we need to go further away from the core of the city. What about way up there and way down there?" Solis says.
After two hours of deliberation, commissioners selected the remaining four candidates and were met with a round of applause.
Now the commission is in place and ready to roll up its sleeves and proceed with the ultimate goal of drawing the city’s first geographic district maps for city council races. Voters will select a member of their respective districts to represent them at city hall.
But first, the 10-1 commission must hire a team of consultants to help them draw the maps. Local political consultant Peck Young asked the commissioners to choose carefully. As he put it, boy scouts are good with maps, but that doesn’t mean you’ll hire them. Now that the ball is rolling, commissioners expect to have the maps drawn by the end of the year.