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Posts published in “Day: July 28, 2011”

Political shifts prompt county meetings

Dozens gathered at the Cove Community Building Monday night to hear from area civic leaders on how the redistricting of voting zones would affect them.
The meeting was the last of three held on Monday, with two more being held in Anahuac and Winnie, so that constituents would have the opportunity to ask questions and become better acquainted with the process. Approximately 40 attended the Anahuac meeting, and around 20 did the same in Winnie.
Chambers County Judge Jimmy Sylvia opened the meeting, and was followed by Robert Bass of Allison, Bass and Associates, an Austin law firm hired by the county to make sure the process was completed legally.
Bass explained that the redistricting process dates back to 1789 and is mandated by the Constitution, to ensure that all voting areas are represented fairly and in proportion to all others.

Bass further explained that the Department of Justice has to pre-clear any redistricting plans as stated in the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which was designed to address discrimination in the voting process that at one time excluded minorities.
The current plans on the table were based around information provided by the 2010 Census. The numbers show that of those who responded to the Census, 7,099 live in Precinct 1, 5,952 in Precinct 2, 10,919 in Precinct 3 and 11,126 in Precinct 4, numbers that show discrepancies in representation. The data also indicates that there has been some shifting in ethnic population. While Caucasian and African-American totals have declined somewhat, the Hispanic population has increased.
Bass added that sampling of data can be used to make up for those who did not respond to the Census, which makes the numbers somewhat inexact. “Is it spot-on accurate? No,” said Bass. “But it’s the only measurement we have that the courts accept.
“I’ve come to appreciate how difficult it can be to measure these things.”
Several elected officials stood to give support to one proposed redistricting measure — Plan 4, which keeps most of Precinct 2 wrapped around Trinity Bay. “Given the information presented here today, I’m leaning toward Plan 4,” Said Precinct 4 Commissioner Rusty Senac. “I think there’s a lot of issues on the shoreline that keep those communities together.”
Precinct 1 Commissioner Mark Huddleston agreed. “We’re here to serve the people. I’m losing neighbors in Anahuac to the redistricting plan … but I lean toward Plan 4,” Huddleston said.
District Clerk Patty Henry was also in support of this plan. “I can say that I live in Anahuac, but not within the city,” Henry said. “With Proposition 4 I will be in a different precinct, but it doesn’t really matter to me if I have to go a little extra.
“I like Prop 4 because it seems to be better for the entire county.”
Precinct 3 Commissioner Gary Nelson shared a sentiment that all the other commissioners agreed with. “I won’t hesitate to take calls from anyone,” Nelson said, “even if they’re not in my district. The Census tells us to change every ten years; it’s not because we want to change.”
County Clerk Heather Hawthorne expressed that county officials were intent on keeping things as close to what the citizens were used to as possible. “We’re going to try to keep election boxes where they are,” Hawthorne said. “People may have to drive a little further, but we’re going to try.”
Whatever plan is decided upon will go to the Department of Justice for review.

Roundup begins for annual Baytown Special Rodeo

It’s been ten years since the Special Needs Rodeo kicked off in the Baytown area. And once again, the roundup has begun for local youngsters to sign up to participate.
Rodeo Association president J.R. Miller encourages all those interested to get their name on the roster now. “I would urge participants in this annual fun day to register now in order to be guaranteed a Rodeo T-shirt,” Miller said. “There is no charge for this event; to sign up they can just go to the Baytown Special Rodeo website at www.specialrodeo.com and complete a registration form.
Volunteers may also register at this site, Miller said.
Parents and siblings of the youngsters are also invited to participate in the day’s activities, which include riding horses provided by Baytown’s Rocking Horse Riders, games and activities, dancing with Elvis, wagon rides, a petting zoo, a hamburger and hot dog lunch and much more.
Those who want to contribute in another way can support the organization at a garage sale, to be held from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 27 at 7501 Bayway Drive in Baytown.
The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 10 at Eastside Honda in Mont Belvieu, located at 12527 Interstate 10 East. For more information, call 713-453-8511 or 281-773-5513, or emailwwalter420@yahoo.com.

Citizens object to Pct. 2 Redistricting Map

By GILBERT HOFFMAN Star-Courier
PCT. 2, PASADENA– Harris County held the first of four public meetings last Monday night, so that citizens could voice their opinions on the new redistricting boundaries proposed for adoption by the county commissioners.
The meeting was hosted by Pct. 2 Commissioner Jack Morman, but the meeting was conducted by Doug Ray and Gene Locke from the law firm of Andrews Kurth LLP, Harris County Asst. Attorney Terry O’Rourke, and Professor Richard Murray of the University of Houston.
On display were maps depicting current and projected boundaries for the County precincts. Handouts and a slide show also reviewed legal criteria for the redistricting effort, as well as goals that the County Commissioners had set for the work.

As explained by Locke and Murray, the maps had to adjust for a 20% increase in Harris County population from year 2000 to 2010, according to the census. The problem was that most of the growth was in Precincts 3 and 4 to the west, but voting law requires all precincts to be relatively equal in size, within 10% of each other. Other important requirements were that minorities must not be discriminated against, and the 14th Amendment provision prohibiting race-predominant decision making must be observed.
The resultant map takes territory from Precinct 1 and adds it to Precinct 2, while on the western edge Precincts 3 and 4 give up voting precincts to Precint 1 to make up the difference.
The resulting proposed plan, labeled A-1, shows equal sized precincts, within 5% of each other. However, the public speakers had several concerns and objections they voiced.
The first speaker was State Senator Mario Gallegos, a veteran lawmaker familiar with drawing voting districts. He strongly objected to this map, saying it did not respect or preserve Hispanic communities and diluted the “Minority Opportunity” district that was originally the intent of Precinct 2 when drawn in year 2000.
He also questioned whether the boundaries respected the Department of Justice’s criteria for a compact district. He said the configuration was highly “gerrymandered” and would not survive a court challenge for this and other reasons. However, he urged the authorities to work on a revised map, and not let the courts decide for the voters.
Precinct 2 boundaries have been extended to include Kingwood, Atascocita, Huffman, Crosby, and areas in the Aldine district. This took voting precincts from Jerry Eversole’s Pct. 4, and El Franco Lee’s Pct. 1.
About 300 persons attended the two hour meeting, and when asked for comments, about 40 people spoke for up to the allowed three minutes.
Although there were some supporters of the map boundaries, most of the comments were against it.
A number of persons from the Highlands area were present for the comment session, including Betty Michalsky, Carl Cooper, and several more from McNair and Barrett. Michalsky’s concern was how the realignment might affect the Pct. 2 budget and whether ongoing programs would lose some of their funding or not.
Some of the objections to the map were because although the Hispanic population held a 57% majority in Pct. 2, the voting age population was only 52%, low enough that the Precinct might lose its “minority opportunity” status. The other major objection was that the combining of voting precincts from Kingwood to Clear Lake did not create a required “compact” district, and also combined voters with dissimilar interest and lifestyles.
The meeting was a requirement to meet federal voting rights laws, according to Locke. There will be three other meetings this week, one in each precinct. Scheduled for Precinct 1 is a meeting at 7 pm on Wednesday, July 27 at the Cavalcade office. Pct. 4’s meeting is Friday, July 29 at 6 pm at the Mangum-Howell Center, and Pct. 3’s meeting is Monday, August 1 at 4:30 pm at the Sosa Community Center. After the meetings, Commissioners will decide to modify or adopt the maps.

TXDoT proposes westbound exit ramp from US90 to FM2100

By LEWIS SPEARMAN
CROSBY – Currently, U.S. 90’s only access to FM 2100 from the eastbound direction is a 1/4 mile North of Runneburg Road’s Overpass, last week information came that a new plan for an off-ramp where the on-ramp is and a new on-ramp where the last entrance to Friendly Ford exists is proposed.
Businesses in the Crosby area have been concerned that neighbors from the northeast did not have rapid enough access to Main Street in Crosby and there has been more than a little discussion of this within the membership of the Crosby/Huffman Chamber of Commerce as a desirable and economically beneficial access.
Last week Fred Salinas, the owner of Friendly Ford in Crosby, got a delight in his mail that he shared with the Star-Courier. The letter from Texas Department of Transportation (TXDoT) advised him that his property was near the proposed project. The letter indicates that construction of the proposed project would begin in the summer of 2012 and would take about 12 months to complete. “No detours or new right-of-way will be needed for these improvements.”

“I think this wonderful news for the entire community,” said Salinas, “I am glad that TXDoT is doing the right thing for this area and we at Friendly Ford all in favor of this proposal. I hope that the community will join with us and find it to our mutual advantage to have this proposal come into being.”
The new off ramp puts traffic off U.S. 90 in time to turn at FM 2100 for all of the businesses at the U.S. 90 and FM 2100 interchange.

Change in disposition
of Overpass
The Overpass of FM 2100 at the railroad tracks between Kernohan St. and Live Oak Dr. has been delayed again this time due to seeking a company that can build it.
According to the TXDoT Media Relations Spokesperson, “TxDOT awarded this contract to South Coast Construction in September 2010 and construction was projected to start in March 2011 relative to on-going utility and right of way relocations. Prior to the commencement of construction South Coast has been determined unable to deliver, TxDOT is working with their bonding company to obtain another contractor for the project.”
When asked if there a change in the projected start construction date in August, they answered,
“Once the bonding company has selected a contractor to perform the work, work will likely begin within two months.”
Has there been a withdrawal of the Letting of FM 2100 Overpass? They answered “no.”
Has there been a change in funding for that overpass? The answer was “no.”
It seems FM 2100 traffic will still be stalled at the railroad tracks for a little while longer but the project is still to be constructed as proposed.