By Kathi Bliss
The Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court took the first steps this week toward redrawing precinct lines as a result of the 2010 Census.
A lengthy presentation from Bickerstaff, Heath, Delgado and Acosta, LLP, the legal counsel contracted to advise the county in redistricting issues, the population in the county has seen a considerable shift in some areas, triggering the need to redraw the lines that separates the county into four single-member precincts for the purpose of election to the Commissioners’ Court.
For more than an hour, attorney Sydney Falk explained the laws and regulations that govern redistricting, explaining to the Commissioners in explicit detail the process involved in obtaining approval from the US Department of Justice, and the requirements that must be met to protect the county from lawsuits.
Most notably, he said, in redrawing the district lines, the Court must be careful to avoid any activity that could be construed as being intended to minimize the voting power of minority groups within any given geographical area.
According to the census figures released last month, Caldwell County’s population has grown to 38,066 people, with 28,008 of those being of voting age. Based on those figures, Falk said, the precinct lines should be drawn such that each district contains around 9,500 people. Currently, Precincts One and Two are close to that range, with approximately 9,100 people each. Precinct Three ballooned to include 11,223 people, and Precinct Four shrank to only 8,600.
Over the next few months, the Commissioners will be working with representatives from Bickerstaff to redraw the district lines. While they will accept public commentary on those proposed districts, the Court voted to enact a resolution placing stipulations on the submission of that commentary.
Under the resolution, proposed plans submitted by the general public must be submitted in writing, contain the total population, voting age population and a racial breakdown for each precinct, and must cover the entire county. Individuals wishing to submit comments about the plans must identify themselves by full name and home address, as well as providing contact information.
The Court expects to hold public hearings on redistricting proposals, and those hearings will be announced as they are scheduled.
The process, Falk said, should be completed this summer, likely no later than August, in order to provide ample time for DOJ approval prior to the filing period for next spring’s primary elections.
In other business, the Commissioners discussed the use of the County’s fuel purchase cards for premium gasoline in the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department patrol vehicles.
County Judge Tom Bonn noted an excessive expense in fuel costs, and said much of that cost is based upon the use of premium, rather than mid-grade, fuel in those vehicles.
After discussion of the reasons and the costs behind the purchase, the Court unanimously voted to block the purchase of premium gasoline on all of the County’s “Fuel-Man” cards.
In brief news:
The Commissioners heard departmental reports from most of the county’s non-elected department heads.
They opted to leave an outdoor burning ban in place.
The County paid bills in the amount of $99,633.99, which included $2,833.40 in indigent legal defense fees, and $27,743.17 for indigent health care expenses.
The Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court meets on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the conference room at the Scott Annex, 1403 Blackjack St., in Lockhart. The meetings are open to the public and interested stakeholders are encouraged to attend.