So Much For Transparency: Garcia Held Private Meetings Before Redistricting Map Hit Council

Categories: City Hall
DomingoatRedistricting.jpg
Domingo Garcia, a week before he called his closed-door meetings with the Redistricting Commission
This morning, the city council got its first formal look at the just-completed redistricting map proposal, Plan 16d, presented by redistricting chair Ruth Morgan and vice chair Billy Ratcliff. And during her presentation, Morgan mentioned something rather interesting: During the final stages of the redistricting process, several private meetings between members of the Redistricting Commission took place. While it's not technically illegal for the commissioners to meet privately, to do so without disclosing to the commission and the public that they met at all, is, as Morgan put it when we called her just now, "contrary to our rules, regulations and practice."

Let's back up for a moment and lay out a timeline of exactly what happened. At their August 9 meeting, commissioners were asked to choose their top three map proposals from the 15 they had remaining before them. Twelve of them voted for Bill Betzen's map, Plan 3, while seven voted for commissioner Hollis Brashear's map, Plan 5, and seven voted for Plan 16, submitted by Ratcliff, Brooks Love and Domingo Garcia.

At that point, Morgan told Mayor Mike Rawlings this morning, "Members of the commission were invited individually to meet with one of the members of the commission who drafted the final plan." That final plan, if you recall from two sentences ago, was Plan 16, meaning that either commissioner Garcia, Love or Ratcliff was asking members of the commission to meet outside City Hall, off the record and away from the public and the press.

When we called Morgan just now, she confirmed to us that the person calling the private meetings was Domingo Garcia. We've called him for comment, but haven't heard back just yet (do keep an eye on the comments section for that, though). Morgan told the mayor and the council she was also invited to meet with Garcia, but turned him down, in order to preserve her neutrality.

The next time the commission took a preference vote was August 20. This time, their numbers had totally shifted: Ten commissioners now voted for Plan 16 as their first choice, while four voted for Plan 5, and just one voted for Plan 3.

It might seem like some seriously shady shit went down at those private meetings to change the numbers that much, right? But bear in mind that this second preference vote also happened following the public forum August 20, where members of the public overwhelmingly spoke in favor of Plan 16. Still, following the forum Bill Betzen told Unfair Park that the redistricting staff told him that they received hundreds of emails in support of his own plan.

Morgan told us she believes the public deserves to know that these private meetings were happening in order to understand if they changed the commissioners' minds about their map preferences.

"I think that when we've made a commitment to the public that this will be an open and transparent process, they had a right to expect that," she said. "It was the responsibility of the commissioners who met with others to try to negotiate, make compromises and try to find common ground with regard to boundaries -- which is perfectly all right -- but it was their responsibility to let the commission know those conversations took place."

Morgan stressed that she didn't conduct a formal investigation into these meetings. "I was called [to attend a private meeting]," she explained, "and I declined. Another one of the commissioners was called," said Morgan, who then identified that member as Donna Halstead. Halstead, Morgan told us, "sent an email as to why she was not meeting with [Garcia] and copied me on it. Her concern that she expressed was that if he met with as many as eight, that's considered a rolling quorum, which would of course be contrary to the Open Records Act."

When Morgan presented this information to the mayor, a man in the back row of the audience started booing softly and protesting, "That's unethical!"

Rawlings, however, had just a couple questions for Morgan. "You have no knowledge of anything that was done [at the private meetings] that would make you present this plan with reservations?" he asked her.

"I can't speak to that accurately," she responded. With that, Rawlings told the commission they'll have until next Friday at 5 p.m. to submit any changes or modifications they want made to the map. Once the council members settle on their final plan, which needs to happen by October 15 at the latest, the map will be sent to the Department of Justice for review.

So what, we asked Morgan this afternoon, does she think the city council should do with this information about the private meetings?

"I just think that they and the public have a right to know," she said. "Other than that, what they do with it is their judgment call. I had made a commitment that this as going to be run aboveboard and there wasn't going to be any backroom deals or smoke-filled rooms. I felt I had an obligation to let the public and the council and the mayor know that this activity did occur."

With her no-shenanigans policy so well-documented, we asked, is she frustrated that it seems like it wasn't followed?

"I think it's not frustration so much as disappointment," she said. "I think that's why the public is so upset with governance. This kind of activity is very disillusioning to the public when they know about it."

As we wrapped up our conversation, I let Morgan know that I would be calling Garcia next for his comment and an explanation as to why he thought these private meetings were necessary. "If he does have one," Morgan said, "I'd be very happy to hear it."

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21 comments
sandra crenshaw
sandra crenshaw

Ruth ought to quit, the only thing transparent during this process was morgan and halstead's efforts to keep 7 white seats, garcia dynasty incumbent protection,* and a rift between hill and caraway over cherry picking city assets.  Why did ruth wait until she lost to bust Garcia, why not tell the public at the commission. She is at fault  by allowing  Carraway to present maps and Halstead to present before the public maps, these two factors were the salvos to the civil war, Garcia is not worried about hispanic % percentages because there is no way you can get around the high hispanic population anywhere south of mockingbird.  He just took advantage of the rifts among the blacks. I aint mad at him.  In fact, I understand it. thank god for federal oversight to protect us from incumbents. we are not a powerless people After two decades of 14-1 I think it is time for a referendum on 10-4-1. How about November. (District 1 Garcia  district 2 Medrano district 6 alonzo district 7 Ragsdale and district 4 Carraway)   Carraway led no he strong armed the three black commissioners to this end.

BCulbreath
BCulbreath

Is Dallas so corrupt we can't do anything right? First school board draw two Precinct completely away from Wilma Hutchins to include Lew Blackburn's son.City map submitted after private one on one meetings with Husband of County Commissioner at same time ,County Commissioner, has County staff member on committee.DA hires campaign staffers to work part time for County office,County Judge Clay Jenkins tried to hire Toni Pippin today and not interview other applicants glade Wade Emmitt spoke up.What is happening in this City makes you want to scream.

primi timpano
primi timpano

Are there not computer programs that can define boundaries based on desired demographic factors instead of the most conflicted individuals arguing over "their territory."

Guest
Guest

I liked Avery Schreiber better when he had the curly hair.

Kimindallas
Kimindallas

I'd like to know why Brooks Love was involved with the Redistricting Committee.  Isn't he also Elba Garcia's chief of staff?  I don't think everything is right with that situation.

Bpl7
Bpl7

The only reason helstead spoke up is because her map got voted out at the very first meeting. Everyone chimes in because the betzen map didn't pass. The betzen map had a lot of flaws, as it pulled downtown and uptown into 5 directions. district 2 goes from Knox Henderson to Balch springs border. Exactly what is compact about that? District 7 from uptown to oak cliff? Same question.

And the vote didn't totally shift. That 16 plan went from 7 votes to 10. And district 14's person was a co submitter of the winning map. Not just Garcia.

Jay
Jay

So after hearing about private meetings between Domingo Garcia and individual commissioners outside of City Hall, with no notice to the commission, and no record of the conversations, and potentially a Mary Suhm-like rolling quorum violation, the Mayor asks:

"You have no knowledge of anything that was done [at the private meetings] that would make you present this plan with reservations?"

Was he wearing an Ass Hat when he asked this question? Seems about right, the usual lip service to ethics........then business as usual at Dallas City Hall.

SeenItBefore
SeenItBefore

If Neil Emmons and Domingo Garcia are for something, you better know it's not good for the city.

Mountain Creek
Mountain Creek

I wonder if Caraway's friends, Arthur and Archie, were there?  Probably not.  

Brenda Marks
Brenda Marks

Bentzen's map is the worst possible outcome for my neighborhood, Oak Lawn (PD 193).  Slices up a vibrant, active and compact neighborhood into four different districts, and guts our ability to have any control over what happens on the ground around us.  You try working with four different city plan commissioners and four different council persons at one time.

whodunnit
whodunnit

Even the appearance of improprieties is serious, when the potential of corruption exists over redistricting plans. I'm sure the Justice Department is anxiously awaiting an outcome.

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

Very, very disappointing indeed... but not surprising.  Both Domingo and Elba Garcia seem unable to consistently conduct themselves in an ethical manner.

When I earlier expressed some support for Domingo's plan, I qualified my support by saying that I don't usually trust the guy, based on his history.  Sadly, I should have gone with my gut feel--- people don't usually change their stripes.

I'd really like to see the council work from Betzen's map, at this point.

sandra crenshaw
sandra crenshaw

Brenda can you e-mail your contact info i would like to know your pd 193 boundaries  I am at 214=498=5298 I presented at least 15 different maps that were not racially gerry mandered like bill's and garcia's. On my way to the Justice Department Need your input . I am at lacpac2011@yahoo.com any one else the more the merrier

DallasWatcher
DallasWatcher

Oak Lawn is represented by 2 council members now.   NW Dallas was represented by 4 council members under the previous lines, and under 2 now.   Under Garcia's backroom deal, the southern part of the city gets raped.  Districts meander all over the place just like the current nightmare districts.  Garcia's map is about political power.   Betzen's map is about compact, geographic and fair representation.

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

I agree with you about that.  The biggest flaw in Bentzen's map (which I pointed out to him), is that, for some reason, he took the approach that Uptown and Downtown were some sort of "prize" that should be split up among a bunch of outlying districts.

So he gave State-Thomas to a South Dallas district centered a few miles away; handed Downtown to Oak Cliff, and then split up the rest of Uptown among two different North Dallas districts.  That's the only thing I didn't like about it.

Garcia's plan handles that better--- but I don't like the fact that he's chosen a sleazy way to go about marshaling support for his plan--- essentially doing an end run around the entire redistricting process and playing everyone who participated for fools and suckers.

If Domingo and the City had simply said at the beginning "hey, we're going to do this in the usual sleazy, secretive way we approach everything else associated with municipal governance," then all the citizens and volunteers could have avoided wasting time on this whole farce.

Brenda Marks
Brenda Marks

Sandra,

Boundaries of PD 193 are --

"established on property generally bounded by Woodall Rogers Freeway, North Central Expressway, the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad, the city limits of the City of Highland Park, Bordeaux Avenue, Inwood Road, Denton Drive Cut-off, Maple Avenue, Cedar Springs Branch Creek, Harry HInes Boulevard, Oak Lawn Avenue and Stemmons Freeway, but excluding existing PD's within those boundaries.  The size of PD 193 is approximately 2619.92 acres. (Ord. Nos. 21858; 22721; 22724; 23254; 23642; 24346; 24896; 25267; 26776)."

Dallas Diner
Dallas Diner

Amen to this.   My neighborhood, Wynnewood North, which has been included in the district with North Oak Cliff, the district in with which it has historic and economic interests, is carved out and put in district 4, most of which is east of I-35E.

Brenda Marks
Brenda Marks

We are represented by two currently and in our dream world, we would be represented by one, although we are pragmatic and know that's not going to happen, but to compare NW Dallas with Oaklawn is laughable.  Oaklawn (PD 193) has driven the growth of property tax and sales tax revenue in Dallas for the past decade.  It is a community of interest unto itself.  It has strong, active grassroots groups working on behalf of the businesses, residents and property owners in the area.  We are the laboratory for form based zoning in Dallas.  We are the laboratory for the City of Dallas Comprehensive Development Plan.  NW Dallas we are not.

rubbercow
rubbercow

Thank you for at least calling Bill BETZEN by his correct last name (for fuck's sake).

Bpl7
Bpl7

Exactly Brenda ...giving him way too much credit. Betzen map puts a third of oak lawn in with cockrell hill and Illinois. And NW Dallas never votes. That's why their district is all over the place.

Brenda Marks
Brenda Marks

Dallas Watcher -- if you compare Bentzen's map with Brashear's, Brashear's is more compact and better for south Dallas, if that's your concern.  And please stop using redistricting to harp about Domingo Garcia.  This isn't about him (although I'm sure he'd love it to be), it's about the rest of us.  The goal is to get the best map possible, even if certain members can't follow the Chair's rules.

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