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City seeks diversity in applicants tasked with redrawing Council district map

Friday, August 14, 2020 by Chad Swiatecki

Just over six weeks ahead of the application deadline, the Office of the City Auditor is seeking candidates from Latino and other minority groups interested in helping to create the city’s next City Council district map.

Applications for the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission are due by Sept. 30. That group will convene next year and begin redrawing the city’s Council districts based on the latest census data, with the new map being used for the 2022 Council and mayoral election.

There is a separate Sept. 1 deadline for those interested in serving on the three-member panel that will screen the applicant pool down to 60 finalists. The auditor’s office will randomly select eight people from that candidate pool, with the initial eight commission members selecting the remaining six members based on the goal of balancing community interests and representation.

On Thursday, City Auditor Corrie Stokes participated in an online panel organized by HABLA (Hispanic Advocates Business Leaders of Austin), a group made up of business and community leaders from the Latino/Hispanic community.

Stokes said as of last week the city had received 228 applications for the ICRC. Of those, 61 percent were male and 68 percent were white, with 12 percent identifying as Latino.

She said some of the requirements for commission members that are spelled out in the city charter amendment that created the district system raise a high bar for applicants.

“There are some things in there that make it challenging. It came up last week that the voting requirements of voting in three of the last five elections and the five years registered in Austin, those can be exclusionary, and the (panel) requirement that you have to have a CPA limits the people available to do that really important job,” she said.

Carmen Llanes-Pulido, a member of the ICRC that drew the current Council map, said, “We have a lot of internalized oppression in our community and a lot of societal messages that we don’t know what’s best for our community and don’t know enough about the process or don’t belong in some of these spaces because that’s for someone who knows it better.

“The reality is that any caring, conscientious person who cares about their community, who can read, write and listen at the most basic level, belongs on this commission if they have fulfilled all the requirements and meet the eligibility.”

Maria Solis, another member of the inaugural ICRC, said applicants should be aware that the group’s work will scale up quickly once it convenes. She also noted the many community interests in play, such as opportunity districts or the goal of having as many districts as possible cross I-35 so the interstate doesn’t continue to serve as a demographic barrier.

“We need to have the time to devote to this project,” said Solis, who helped create the League of Women Voters’ Roadmap to Citizen Redistricting following the adoption of the city’s first district map.

“I learned a whole lot about how city government works and learned about the city because we had to learn about each area and the challenges the people in different places face. I found out it takes a lot more time than what you read into it when you are filling out the application.”

Solis said diversity is one of the most important considerations in the makeup of the next commission.

“I want to inform Latino people that they have a say-so and can participate in this commission,” she said. “It’s important to not have just one type of person represent you. Latinos bring something into it that white people don’t know about, and white people bring things in that I might not have experienced because of my culture.”

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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