The Selma City Council is torn between choosing a district map the community supports or picking one that keeps members from running against each other.
At Monday night’s regular meeting, the council cast votes on a map created by the company it hired, the National Demographics Corporation (or NDC), and a map drawn by a community member. The vote was split because Council Member Jim Avalos abstained.
“I need more time to talk to the public,” Avalos said. “I need more time to analyze these maps.”
Mayor Pro Tem Louis Franco and Council Member John Trujillo both voted for the community map, which puts Avalos and Trujillo in separate districts and Mayor Scott Robertson, Council Member Sarah Guerra, and Franco in the same district.
Roberston and Guerra both voted for one of the NDC maps. All three of the maps the NDC submitted put council members in different districts, even though they all live in two neighborhoods on the east side of town.
Avalos and Trujillo live within a few blocks of each other in the northeast corner of the city. Roberston and Franco live across the street from each other in the central-east side of Selma, and Guerra lives nearby.
“But I have to say, while these colored maps [NDC maps] may be technically legal, are they fair to the community?” Franco asked during the meeting. “Is it fair that it’s so nonlogical for the average citizen to say, ‘Hey just go to your neighborhood councilman. Where is he? He’s on the other side of town.’”
Anyone in the community could submit a map for the council to consider. The last eight maps that were submitted didn’t comply with all the requirements in the Voting Rights Act, like being population balanced. But five out of the nine maps community members resubmitted recently were population balanced and abided by federal law, said Shalice Tilton, an NDC consultant.
However, when the council asked Tilton to create a map that was more compact, like most of the community maps, during the last meeting, she said it wasn’t possible to do that while also following the council's other suggestions and making sure district populations are evenly distributed. The council asked the NDC to create maps that included multiple representation in the downtown, barrio, and westside areas ot town, while also keeping the council members in separate districts.
All 13 of the community maps the council saw put two or more council members in the same district. The four people who spoke during public comment asked the council to take the community maps into consideration.
“The east side of town, whether we like to say it or not, is a little bit more affluent than the west side of town,” Theresa Salas, who ran for city council during the last election, told the council. “Having the people who can afford to run against the people who can’t afford to run is unfair.”
The maps the NDC drew are intended to keep the council members in different districts, she added. Although it’s customary to take into consideration where the council lives when drawing maps, Salas said, it shouldn’t be the top priority.
Avalos, who would have been the deciding vote, declined to comment. But during the meeting, he said, “These [community] maps were dropped on us so suddenly and to sit there and analyze these things, it takes a little more time than you think.”
Robertson said he doesn’t have an issue with running against someone else but the community maps don’t respect who the voters elected. If all five council members are in two districts, then three are out, he said.
“I haven’t heard of people saying there is a problem with people [council members] living close to each other, not living close to each other,” Robertson said. “People have been judging us based on what we do, how our actions back up our words.”
An elected office should be based on what officials do, not their zip code or how many feet away they live from other councilmembers, Robertson added.
Guerra questioned whether the city should wait until 2021 to create districts because it will have to redistrict then anyway once the 2020 census data is available.
Trujillo said it’s important to have “true representation” because some parts of town have different income levels. True representation means representing the community and having the same thoughts and ideas the people there do, he said.
“If the barrio needs representation, they need the representation that they have,” he said. “You can say you represent the barrio and live in the town and have a $900,000 home. You’re not representing the barrio.”
He added, “if we all run against each other that’s fine. If I'm not here in four years that’s fine. But if we get full representation and share each other’s, maybe that will be a starting point so this community can get united.”
The council is expected to vote on a district map during a special meeting on September 27. The council needs to adopt a map by October 7.