An advisory panel appointed to help Somervell County commissioners redraw county precinct lines last week approved a preliminary design that would put Wolf City in one precinct and shift some boundary lines between precincts 1 and 2.
All of the proposed changes are within the Glen Rose city limits. Outer county residents will not be affected. Any changes, if approved, would not take effect until elections in 2012.
Residents will have a chance to ask questions and voice their opinions or concerns at a public meeting to be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 19, in the commissioners courtroom in the County Courthouse Annex, 107 N.E. Vernon St.
The U.S. Attorney General's regulations “strongly encourage community input into the process,” County Judge Mike Ford said in a notice of the public hearing. “All citizens of Somervell County are encouraged to attend and participate in this important public hearing.”
By law, county commissioners are the government officials charged with approving a county's redistricting plan. Somervell County must redraw precinct lines to adjust for population growth over the past 10 years. Three precincts — 1, 2 and 3 — grew, while Precinct 4 lost population.
The panel had two charges, said David Guinn, a professor of law at Baylor University and a principal attorney with the Waco law firm Guinn & Morrison. The county hired Guinn to come up with a preliminary redistricting plan.
Because the county elects its four commissioners from single-member districts, the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment requires that the principle of “one person, one vote” be upheld and that all districts contain about the same number of people.
The redistricting plan also must comply with the provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It requires the U.S. Attorney General to pre-clear all voting changes and to make sure any changes to district lines don't have a discriminatory purpose or impact on the rights of minorities to vote.
Ford and the four commissioners each selected two people to the advisory committee. Those appointed were Debi Bly, County Superintendent Wade Busch, Billie Flanary, County Emergency Management Coordinator Dwayne Griffin, Brendan Kelly, Robin Middleton, Sandra Ramsay, Windell Rozelle, Fran Thomas and Clarence Whitesell.
Under the latest Census figures, the county grew 24.69 percent from 6,808 residents to 8,490. The Hispanic population showed the largest increase by racial segment, as it did throughout the state, growing by more than 77.7 percent. The county’s total minority population accounts for 22.32 percent of the overall population.
Glen Rose also grew, from 2,122 to 2,444 people, Census figures show.
To protect its minority profile, the county must limit any minority population shifts to less than 10 percent in each county.
Guinn's firm proposed a preliminary plan that made a minimum number of line shifts and still complied with the federal guidelines.
The main change would be to combine Wolf City — which had been split into Precincts 2 and 4 — into one precinct, 4. The precinct line would run down State Highway 144 (Austin Street) to FM 56 rather than splitting Wolf City between precincts 2 and 4 at Webster Street.
The other change would adjust the boundaries between precincts 1 and 2. The eastern boundary of Precinct 2 would run along Stadium Drive and down Mission Street to Barnard Street to keep Commissioner Zach Cummings in his precinct, as required.
“This is a fairly easy change,” Ford said. “For those who live in Wolf City, when they get to the light at Barnard and Elm they would turn right instead of left and go two blocks.”
Under the preliminary plan, Precinct 1 would lost seven Anglos and gain 10 minorities and Precinct 2 would lose 10 minorities and gain seven Anglos. The level of minority shifts is less than 1 percent, Guinn said.
Once the county submits a redistricting plan, the U.S. Department of Justice has 60 days to pre-clear it.
A possible wrinkle would be if Texas legislators fractured Somervell County as they redraw congressional district lines, Guinn said. But so far early congressional redistricting proposals keep Somervell County intact and grouped with western counties. The legislature is having to redraw congressional districts because Texas will pick up four new seats in Congress due to population growth.