According to the Chronicle's Matt Stiles, Mayor White has decided against adding new council districts at this time based on the city's estimates of population growth:
Mayor Bill White has decided against adding two single-member districts to the City Council, delaying a move that some believe would offer Houston's growing population more focused representation.
White had largely abandoned the idea last summer. But new city estimates put the population at 2,231,335, a figure that could trigger a charter provision requiring new council districts when the city's population exceeds 2.1 million.
The city's legal department, however, advised White last month that those estimates didn't meet the "stringent standard" in federal law for using noncensus data in redistricting, according to a two-page memo obtained by the Houston Chronicle.
"The 10-year census figures have a presumption of correctness, and that's a hard burden to overcome," White said this week. "If somebody challenged our redistricting, they would prevail under federal law."
[City attorney Arturo] Michel said the data weren't detailed enough to ensure that newly created districts had roughly equal populations and didn't dilute the voting strength of ethnic minorities.
"Part of the requirement for redistricting is that you know the details down to the census-tract level — the precinct level — and we don't have numbers of that detail. So I don't believe it's warranted under the City Charter," White said.
While Mayor White could probably have pushed through redistricting based on the city's estimates, the more prudent course is to hold off for the official census figures. It's not clear that the population growth related to Katrina will be permanent, but the census clearly will do a better job of tracking population, right down to the precinct level. For purposes of redistricting and popular representation, the more detailed information is pretty critical, actually.
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