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County narrows redistricting

Wednesday, March 14, 2001 by

Consultant choices to two

Bickerstaff Heath or Emory & Young team

Travis County Commissioners yesterday eliminated one of three firms recommended to the court by county staff to assist with redistricting. Still in the running are the law firm of Bickerstaff Heath Smiley Pollan Keever & McDaniel and political consultants Emory & Young, who are teamed with the law firm of Guajardo Dodi & Guajardo. All the firms are local. Rolando Rios of San Antonio did not make the cut.

As a result of tremendous population growth, all counties in Central Texas will have to redraw lines for commissioners’ precincts as well as precincts for justices of the peace and constables. The Legislature is responsible for redrawing lines for state representatives and state senators. The county is responsible for drawing the lines of individual voting precincts.

Cyd Grimes, purchasing agent for the county, said she believes both bidders would like to have the matter resolved as soon as possible. Commissioners Margaret Gomez, a Democrat and Todd Baxter, a Republican, are part of the county’s interview team. Although the commissioners did not discuss the dollar amount of the bids, they admitted they were having a hard time comparing the two because of dissimilar pricing methods.

Bill Emory, whose firm handled redistricting for the county in 1990, said, “They’re essentially looking for someone who could come in and handle census data and prepare maps for commissioners court, and oversee and organize the public participation process. Then, (the contractor) would work with the County Attorney to see to it that all the documentation is prepared and submitted to the Department of Justice under the Voting Rights Act.” The Department of Justice must approve every redistricting change in Texas and other southern states.

Attorney Bob Heath of the Bickerstaff firm said, “Basically, what we do is advise counties, cities and school districts on legal issues, and help them through the redistricting process. Obviously we’re lawyers, and we also do the demographic work, help draw the districts, propose a plan and have hearings on it.” The goal, Heath said, is “to get to a plan that satisfies everybody and is consistent with the law.” Heath acknowledged that it is rarely possible to make everybody happy. He said his firm would also be assisting in redistricting the cities of Houston and Dallas, as well as the Austin Independent School District.

Emory said work on redistricting would probably begin in April. At that time, he said, “We can see how the population is apportioned out in each precinct. Once that’s done, everybody will have an idea how it’s distributed and people can be talking about how much change there needs to be—but you’ll probably wait until Legislature is done before you move on that.” The Legislature must create representative and senate districts before voting precincts are redrawn, he said, because a voting precinct cannot be split. For example, everyone in Precinct 345 must have the same choices for state representative, senator, county commissioner, and so on.

Heath echoed those remarks. “You want to wait on the ultimate decision, in all probability because the voting precincts that Travis County will have cannot contain more than one state rep districts, etc.” Heath also gave this example: “If the Legislature drew a state representative line on 7th Street and county drew a line on 8th Street for a commissioner’s precinct, you’d have a block wide voting precinct, which doesn’t make any sense.”

Such things have happened in the past, however. Heath said that because Houston’s legislators failed to pay sufficient attention to redistricting lines, the number of precincts doubled. A congressional election was overturned because a clerk left out a significant number of precincts, he said.

Commissioners plan to choose between the two firms at next week’s meeting.

Roger Chan:

After years of experience in higher profile pursuits—running an international restaurant chain, serving as a deputy under two Washington D.C. mayors and launching one of the first municipal Web sites— Roger Chan still thinks of himself as a second-grade teacher.

That’s what Chan was for a number of years in the early 1970s after he graduated from University of Maryland with degrees in education and psychology—until his older brother died. Then Chan joined his father in the family business, the Trader Vic’s restaurant chain. The friendly Chan is eager to tell you why it’s better to teach second grade than teach third.

“I made an observation that up until third grade, the biggest reward you can give a student is 10 minutes of your own time after school,” Chan says. “Then after the third grade, the biggest punishment you can give a student is 10 minutes of your own time after school.”

Chan says it a bit wistfully, but he is a man who has had many careers beyond the classroom. He’s a third-generation Washingtonian who ran his family’s well-known business, which has locations around the globe. He served two stints in city government, focusing on business retention and development, as well as launching the first Web site for the local department of commerce in the early days of the Internet. Chan served in government relations for a high-tech firm and as marketing director for a webmaster company, all in the Washington DC area.

Chan, 50, now serves as an assistant city manager in charge of economic development, which includes business attraction, retention and development. He supervises the city’s redevelopment activities at the Austin Convention Center, Arts CenterStage, City Hall and Mueller airport site. He also oversees the city’s solid waste services, Water&Wastewater Department and the city’s convention and visitors bureau. It’s an eclectic mix.

“My strength is really the management of people, coordinating people to do things,” says Chan. “All of the departments that are under me now all have business aspects to them in governance and enterprise.”

Chan credits his impression of City Manager Jesus Garza as the impetus to move from what he calls his “ancestral home” in Chevy Chase, where three generations of Chans had lived. Not only did Chan and his parents live in the neighborhood, but also 14 people on Chan’s street were either second- or third-generation residents of Chevy Chase. It was a difficult decision, but one which Chan made after only a couple of weeks of interviews with Garza.

Chan—who unabashedly admits he prefers to work for women because he finds them more complex—says Garza is a remarkable manager and one of the best men he’s ever met.

“I just have not met many men that I truly, truly respect and admire, and he’s really up there,” Chan says. “All of his awards and accolades are well deserved. Often, as I leave this building late at night, I wonder if the general public has any clue what it takes to run a city like this, and how really remarkable the staff is who work here.”

Garza was one reason Chan left Washington DC. The other reason was the opportunity to be a negotiator with a purpose. “I’m a businessman,” says Chan, who adds that public service is the example and legacy he wants to leave his children. “I love hard-core negotiating, tough negotiating. In this job, I get to do what I love in the private sector, but in the public interest.”

Chan’s early impression of Austin is that he has to throw all his East Coast assumptions about Texas out the window. Here, in the middle of the South, is a city more influenced by the values and lifestyles of the ‘60s than any other he’s ever visited. Other cities are rigid and uptight by comparison, Chan adds.

Chan feels his biggest challenge will be to help Austin grow into a larger, more modern city while retaining its ambience and culture. He also adds that mediating between public good and private goals is important.

“My immediate goal is helping put things in perspective for people, helping them deal with things better,” Chan says. “Nothing prepared me for what it would be like when I left the private business world for the public sector. There was such a difference in culture and in mission. I see one of my jobs as helping the private sector understand better why things are the way they are in the public sector and to help the public sector learn how to interface better with the private sector.”

Chan says he is not someone who believes in compromise. Compromise implies that someone has given up something he values. Instead, he considers it important to talk to all sides and bring all sides to an understanding of different viewpoints before people lock themselves into rigid stances. On issues such as light rail, it’s important to bring people to the middle “where we can come together on likenesses as opposed to separating on what we perceive as differences.”

Chan and his family have settled in North Cat Mountain. In D.C., Chan’s wife Donna was executive director of the Arlington County Medical Society. And while she is at home now, Chan expects her to be back at work soon. Their twins, Emily and Zachary, attend Doss Elementary School.

©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Responding to FOX 7 . . . Council Member Danny Thomas put out an unusual press release yesterday afternoon. The document says that Jack Hirschfield of FOX 7 News has “opted to do an investigation into my use of petty cash funds from my office budget.” Thomas says he has properly handled both his budget and use of petty cash. The release also warns the reporter: “Should you or your newstation elect to publish matters in such a way or light to mischaracterize my handling of these funds, such as to expressly or impliedly infer any civil or criminal matter associated with these funds, or to suggest theft or embezzlement or conversion, such action or conduct on the part of FOX 7 newstation, newscompany, or individual, shall receive equal concern and attention in the public.” . . . Alvarez busy too . . . Council Member Raul Alvarez will announce a pilot housing rehabilitation project this morning along with Con Ganas, an East Austin-based organization led by Ray Ramirez. Alvarez and Ramirez hope to gain support for the program from the private sector . . . Mostly on vacation . . . Mayor Kirk Watson and his family and are on vacation, as are a great number of people at City Hall. Offices are dark and news is scarce. But those left behind may be grateful for a few days of quiet. In Fact Daily will not be published on Friday.

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