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Austin Holds Its Last Input Meeting on Geographic Council Districts

Wells Dunbar, KUT News
Redistricting commission members listen to speakers on Austin's 10 new city council districts. It was the commission’s final public input meeting.";

Thursday night was the final public input meeting for the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission – the group drawing Austin's ten new city council districts.

Held at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex in East Austin, it was a homecoming of sorts. The same places the commission’s first input meeting back in August.

While many district boundaries have evolved, the district containing the Millennium Complex – District 1 – really hasn’t between the commission’s preliminary and final proposed maps.

Drawing District 1 – an African-American opportunity district, where black voters should be able to elect the candidate of their choice – meant the commission started with that district first, then drew the rest of the districts after that.

“We have worked to be sure that there were four minority opportunity districts,” said Peck Young. He and his group, Austinities for Geographic Representation, didn’t serve on the redistricting commission, but they advocated for council districts and closely followed the mapping process.

Creating one black and three Hispanic opportunity districts, Young says, was the group’s biggest charge. As for the six other districts?

“Somebody’s gonna say, ‘Well, but ya got my momma outta my district,’” Young said. “That’s an old joke in redistricting – whatever ya draw, somebody’s momma ain't in their district.”

There were no calls for family reunions last night – but speakers did offer some suggested changes.

A group of speakers from District 10 – which stretches from Old West Austin to Research Boulevard – said their Northwest Hills neighborhood had vital issues in common – like wildfire mitigation –- with neighboring District 6, even further northwest.

That drew rebukes from another speaker – who claimed they were trying to shape the district to their future political advantage. Similar complaints – that people were advocating districts with a future campaign or candidate in mind – previously swirled around the Mueller and East Cesar Chavez regions. 

But most suggestions were minor – especially compared to the rework of the commission’s early proposals.

“I still can’t figure out how they were able to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” said David Orshalick, an Allendale resident who actually drew and submitted his own map in response to the commission’s first proposals. “When they converted that first map into the current map – as I told the commission, I thought it was brilliant,” Orshalick said.

Praise like that was common for the commission.

“We want to thank you, commend you, applaud you and compliment you for your commitment to the citizens of Austin,” said longtime Austin activist Ora Houston. “All of them. Thank you and shalom.”

The redistricting commission operated as apolitically as possible, due to its strict guidelines – but all that’s due to change next year, when campaigning in districts begins. The commission expects to approve the final district maps Nov. 20.

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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