Friday, August 26, 2011

Redistricting: DISD vs Dallas City Council

The more the public understands the contrast between DISD redistricting and Dallas City Council redistricting, the more we all will understand redistricting and how it should be done. Expanding that knowledge benefits us all!
To compare the redistricting process at the Dallas City Council with that same process at DISD is especially frightening when you consider the old teaching truism that you teach more by what you do than what you say in front of a classroom.
What lessons are being given students by the DISD board in their redistricting process? Any senior government class could come to the following conclusions if they were to have observed the past 3 months of the redistricting process within DISD, and failed to also observe Dallas City Council in the same process:

Lesson #1: Redistricting requires more involvement by attorneys than by the public. There were at least three attorneys involved in the DISD redistricting process. DISD only spent about 60% of the amount that Dallas City Council spent but it appears that a disproportionate amount of the DISD money was spent on paying attorneys.
Meanwhile, Dallas City Council only had one attorney visible in the redistricting process. She was only there for guidance and legal advice, and she was great! She did not draw maps. It appears attorneys were paid to draw the maps in the DISD redistricting process.

Lesson #2: Redistricting does not require maps being drawn by the public as it is too complex of a process and must be done by professionals. DISD provided no online access or other computer access so that the public could be actively involved in designing the redistricting map.
Meanwhile, Dallas City Council centered their process on maps being drawn by the public and by the commissioners. Those hundreds and thousands of hours spent drawing maps were donations to the city both by the public and by the commissioners who were also volunteers. It was a priceless lesson about public donations of time. It was a practical lesson related to what can be done online. It also helped to expose the power of gerrymandering to the 50+ people involved in the process, and underlined the need to eliminate it. (This was the most priceless lesson students studying only the DISD Board would have missed.)

Lesson #3: The public has no need to know the details of the redistricting process. The public does not even need to see the maps to be voted on beyond maybe seeing the final map two hours before the final vote by the DISD board. The final DISD map was never posted online, and may still not be online as I am writing this, but it was passed by the DISD board last night after less than two hours of visibility to those present at the meeting. Those not present never saw it!

Meanwhile the Dallas City Council had dozens of maps posted online for days before they were ever voted on. The final proposed Dallas City Council map has now been online for 2 days at http://www.dallascityhall.com/redistricting/. It will not be presented to the Mayor till next week. It may be as long as 45 days before it is passed by the Dallas City Council. This provides ample time for the public to study the map, actively criticize the map and suggest alternatives, and write emails, letters, and make phone calls to the Dallas City Council related to the map. (I am actively doing that at http://dallasredistricting2011.blogspot.com/2011/08/compare-dallas-city-council.html.)

Are these the lessons we should be teaching as to how a true democracy functions? What do we want our children in to learn? May I suggest that our most advanced government students study BOTH of these redistricting processes and come to their own conclusions. It may be one of those lessons they will remember most from their years in DISD, but they must also study the Dallas City Council process.  The good news is that Dallas City Council process is well documented online along with 100 hours of video from the actual meetings.  Sadly such documentation of the DISD process does not exist.
If the above issues are not shared in gatherings and conversations in Dallas, the potential for our city to become a truly great and sustainable American City will be limited.  Please join in the conversation and the sharing. Invest in our city, our schools, and our future.

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