Houston set to redraw district lines

HOUSTON Houston is now a city of roughly 2.2 million people, a huge sprawling city with a large diverse population. Phil Waldrop is a lifelong Houstonian who's seen his hometown's transformation.

"It's grown quite a bit," he said. "Yeah, and this whole area has changed."

The city's new size means bigger government. Houston now has to redraw its council district lines and add two new seats.

"We have a lot of work to do in a very short period of time," said Houston Mayor Annise Parker.

It's a challenging task not lost on Mayor Parker.

"We have to draw a district council plan that does not disenfranchise or disadvantage any of our ethnic or racial minorities," she said.

But in the process, the mayor says it could lead to better service by making each district somewhat smaller.

Here's an example of what the mayor means. In 2001, council was divided into 14 districts serving 217,000 people apiece. Compare that to 2011, when 16 districts will serve right at 200,000 constituents.

Waldrop says he doesn't buy the better service argument.

"There's just a level of bureaucracy that you're gonna go through and I don't see how two people are gonna expedite anything," he said. "You might get 30 of them in there and it might help."

Help or not, the city doesn't have a choice. By charter, it must add the two seats, a task undertaken by several city departments, consultants, and university researchers.

"It's the sort of process where the real work begins after the lines are drawn," said city of Houston Attorney David Feldman.

Those tentative lines will be drawn by March, in time for public hearings, community input and then a council vote, before the Department of Justice decides if the lines are fair, and all of that before Houston voters head to the polls for city elections less than 13 months from now.

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