Fifty years ago “separate but equal” was a three word phrase used by respected Dallas leaders, and leaders everywhere, to justify segregated schools and communities.
We are now entering the final months of debate surrounding the 2011 Dallas City Council redistricting process. Another three word phrase, “communities of interest,” has evolved into an uneasy prominence in this political process. While it has valid valuable uses, and I have often used it, there are times it gives a chilling reminder of how “separate but equal” was used.
The Dallas City Council Redistricting Commission has been meeting regularly since February of this year. These meetings are a wonderful testament to the 15 dedicated volunteers appointed to the Commission. They are donating thousands of hours of work to improve our City. Many of those hours are well documented in the video tapes made of Commission meetings since April, and are online at http://www.dallascityhall.com/Redistricting/planReview.html .
On April 13th the redistricting guidelines were approved and made public. There are five general criteria addressed in the redistricting guidelines. The very last, and the very least, of these criteria is “communities of interest.”
It has been pointed out many times during Redistricting Commission meetings that while “communities of interest” are certainly a valid consideration, this designation is the least objective of the criteria listed in the guidelines. It is the last criteria listed in the guidelines. It is under “population equality,” “minority representation,” and “contiguity and compactness.”
Watch closely the video tapes of the Redistricting Commission meetings covering both the Commissioners discussions and testimony from the public. Notice the frequent use of the three words “communities of interest.” They are the most common criteria mentioned. It is certain that at times the difference from a “separate but equal” meaning is minimal. This most clearly happens in statements as to why a certain “community of interest” should not be included in a certain City Council District. Is the ghost of “separate but equal” present? How do we exorcise this ghost?
There are three answers:
1) Inclusiveness must overpower exclusivity.
2) Compactness, population equality, and minority representation should rule the process!
3) Never allow “communities of interest” to overpower the other, more objective, criteria.
These three steps must rule the redistricting process!
In the redistricting process in Dallas it has already been proven that the most compact districts can also provide the highest level of minority representation. Crooked district boundary lines on residential streets are not necessary! Among the 21 complete redistricting plans being considered, the most compact are generally the ones that have the highest number of minority districts, and also have the highest minority percentage averages within those districts. A list comparing such statistics is at http://dallasredistricting2011.blogspot.com/2011/07/comparisons-of-21-dallas-city-council.html .
We need to be very cautious as to what redistricting process phrases may really mean in each use. Such caution will help Dallas create city council districts that will still be a source of pride for our city in 2021, 2031, and 2050. This will happen if we create the most compact Dallas City Council Districts possible, districts that also have the greatest potential to provide city council members who will accurately reflect our city.
Please come to the Dallas City Council Redistricting meetings every Tuesday and Thursday and show your concern for the future of Dallas. On Tuesday, 8/9/11, they will be eliminating at least 10 of the 15 plans that remain on the list for consideration. (Here is a one page chart of these 15 plans with 8 basic demographic and compactness measurements given for each plan.)