By Kathi Bliss
What some are calling an inconsistency and others are calling an error continues to create headaches for the Lockhart Independent School District, as an election looms and the District’s maps have been called into question.
Despite hours of research and conversation, one question still remains: Who moved the line?
Several weeks ago, a candidate running for election in Lockhart ISD Single Member District 3 (SMD3) noticed while touring the Twin Island Estates neighborhood that, according to the map she had been provided, her opponent in the race actually lives in SMD4.
Historically, that candidate’s voter registration information reflected his residence in SMD3; he had in fact been told by LISD during an earlier call for volunteer candidates to fill a vacant seat on the board that he could not serve in that position, because he lived in SMD3, as opposed to SMD4.
After researching the matter and consulting with the law firm who performed redistricting tasks and mapping for LISD, Superintendent Dr. Jose Parra released a statement on Sept. 5 stating the candidate, Fermin Islas, though he had filed in good faith in SMD3, would not be included on the Nov. 6 ballot, because his residence is in SMD4.
The adopted District map, which shows the line dividing SMD3 from SMD4 is in the middle of Meadow Lane, and not down the southern property line of the Twin Island Estates, as was previously believed.
However, the map used by the Caldwell County Elections Office reflects something different.
Matthew Allen, an employee of the Caldwell County Appraisal District who is familiar with the GIS mapping software has historically assisted the Elections Division by uploading maps provided to the County into the Elections Division system.
“I receive the maps from [Lockhart ISD] and I upload them, because I am familiar with the software,” Allen said on Monday. “But I don’t change anything. I just upload the files as I receive them.”
Allen claims to have brought the discrepancy to the attention of the District as early as February of this year, a claim which the District denies. Instead, LISD said, that discussion was in regard to external boundaries of the district, issues which were later addressed by the demographer.
Allen said he also acts as a “printing service,” as few organizations in Caldwell County apart from his office have printing equipment that will handle the size and detail of the maps.
Elections Administrator Pamela Ohlendorf also said her office does not alter maps after they are received.
Still, little explanation is available as to why the County’s map does not match the map LISD submitted to the Department of Justice as a function of the 2010 Redistricting process.
According to Parra, who worked this week with Walsh Anderson attorney Dorcas Green, who represents the firm responsible for the redistricting process, the 2010 Redistricting maps were prepared using the Redistricting Map approved by the LISD Board of Trustees in 2001. That map, Parra and Green say, shows the dividing line between SMD3 and SMD4 in the middle of Meadow Lane.
Allen’s map, which he said was sent directly from District attorneys and which reflects “Voting boundaries adopted by the LISD Board of Directors July 31, 2001,” clearly shows the residences on the south side of Meadow Lane as being included in SMD3.
“I can’t think of any reason why we would have split that subdivision into two separate districts,” said Alan Fielder, who served on the LISD Board of Trustees from 1983 to 1996, and who served on the Redistricting Committees in 2001 and 2011. “I can’t recall any discussion about splitting up that subdivision in 2001, and I know there was no discussion about moving that line in 2011.”
Former trustees Carl Ohlendorf, Chris Schnieder and Gary Allen also recall that when the SMD lines were originally drawn, as a result of a lawsuit in the late-1980s, the map was specifically drawn to include the south side of Meadow Lane in the same district as the rest of Twin Island Estates. None recall any intention of the Board to change that line, or to separate the subdivision into two separate SMDs.
LISD maintains, however, that the 2001 map approved by the Department of Justice uses Meadow Lane as the break-point, calling Meadow Lane a “census block line,” which they said are not the same as property lines.
While they confirmed the demographer employed by Walsh Anderson confirmed the lines in the 2001 plan as the benchmark for the 2011 Redistricting, the District did not address the question as to whether District staff, as well as the demographer, had confirmed the lines were correct at the onset of the Redistricting process last year.
They said the District maps and GIS files from 2001 do not support Allen’s claim that the SMD3/SMD4 dividing line is the property line, rather than Meadow Lane.
Islas said, however, that he was told Walsh Anderson’s files as they pertained to the 2001 redistricting had been purged; however the district did agree to make available for review the maps submitted to the Department of Justice.
The 2001 Redistricting process, according to LISD, was the source of the fundamental change in the Twin Island Estates subdivision. Prior to that time, they said, both sides of Meadow Lane were located in SMD1 – a line drawn as a result of the Federal lawsuit requiring that minority elected officials be drawn into districts which contained a majority of minority voters. At that time, Schnieder said, the Trustees were forced to gerrymander SMD1 to include Islas.
In 2001, however, the lines were changed again, Twin Island Estates was shifted into SMD3, with the exception of the southern portion of Meadow Lane, apparently, which LISD and Walsh Anderson claim was shifted into SMD4.
“I can’t think of any good reason why we would have moved that side of the street [which at the time had only a handful of residences] into different district than the rest of the subdivision,” C. Ohlendorf said. “I don’t remember that being something that we discussed, or something we would have done.”
LISD maintains, however, that is exactly what happened.
It remains unclear when and why the separation line between SMD3 and SMD4 was moved, if, in fact, it was moved at all. If the line was moved in error, no one is claiming responsibility. M. Allen asserts he does not change maps; answers from LISD and Walsh Anderson suggest, without saying so directly, that he must have. Former Trustees do not recall separating the subdivision; LISD and Walsh Anderson assert, through their answers, that the Trustees approved maps that showed the line on Meadow Lane, rather than at the southern boundary of the subdivision.
Only one thing is certain: the Redistricting Plan approved by the LISD Board of Trustees in 2011 shows the Twin Island Estates subdivision in two separate districts – a separation which may have caused inconsistencies in voter registration records for more than a decade.
What remains unclear is who moved that line, and why.