The city of McAllen is preparing to draw new City Commission districts based on data from the 2020 census.
Assistant City Attorney Austin Stevenson briefed the City Commission on the process Monday during a workshop at City Hall.
“I think we’re in really good shape,” Stevenson said. “We have outside counsel coming in to help guide us through the process.”
The city hired Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta — a law firm with offices in McAllen, Houston, Austin and El Paso — to assist the City Attorney’s Office.
Mayor Javier Villalobos and the City Commission will adopt criteria for redistricting before attorneys start drawing maps.
The criteria probably will include keeping incumbents within their districts, drawing commission districts of roughly equal population and respecting other boundaries to avoid confusing voters.
“So we’ll be back in January with outside counsel to do that initial assessment. And then those criteria will be publicly adopted,” Stevenson said. “It also will provide the public an opportunity to comment on any concerns that they might have at that time.”
Stevenson said he anticipated McAllen would be able to crunch the data, draw new districts and bring them before the City Commission in six months.
“We have until 2023 to do this — until the general election,” Stevenson said. “So there’s no huge rush, but it is important to get the process started so we don’t get caught behind the eight ball in a year, when we’re worrying about elections.”
McAllen went through a similar process after the 2010 census, when the population reached nearly 130,000.
The 2010 census determined that District 2, which covers northwest McAllen, had more than 33,000 residents. District 5, which covers central McAllen, had just 17,000 residents.
McAllen needed to draw new maps that brought the population of each district as close to 21,600 people as possible.
The city hired attorney Rolando L. Rios of San Antonio, an expert on redistricting, to draw the new districts. Members of the City Commission, though, weren’t impressed.
Then-City Commissioner Marcus Barrera, who represented District 2, had to reduce his district by a third. During a City Commission workshop in July 2011, he grabbed a marker and started making changes to the proposed map himself.
Then-City Commissioner John Ingram, who represented District 5, also paid close attention. He needed to find 4,000 additional constituents.
The City Commission ditched a rectangle-shaped suggestion for District 5 and replaced it with a cross-shaped district that didn’t extend as far north.
McAllen hired a different law firm, Bickerstaff, for the latest round of redistricting.
Former McAllen City Attorney Kevin Pagan joined Bickerstaff after he retired.
City Attorney Isaac Tawil said two other attorneys from the firm, C. Robert Heath and Gunnar P. Seaquist, would assist McAllen with redistricting.
Whether the City Commission will take a hands-on approach or delegate the drawing of districts to attorneys remains to be seen.
“You will receive updates along the way,” Stevenson said. “And I wouldn’t say you’d be heavily involved. Or too time consuming. But you’ll be hearing ‘redistricting’ quite a bit in the coming months.”