|San Jacinto News-Times - Local News
Copyright 2011 - Polk County Publishing Company
Battle for or against law fi rm for redistricting heard in court
San Jacinto News- Times
COLDSPRING – The approval of a bid for professional services for the county’s 2010 census redistricting requirements had San Jacinto County Commissioners’ Court divided last week during regular session. While the court eventually came back with a quick vote to hire Bickerstaff Heath Delgaqdo Acosta LLP to provide redistricting services, it wasn’t until after the agenda item was debated, a motion made and failed for lack of a second, then set aside and held until after the court adjourned for executive session, reconvened and then went through all remaining agenda items before returning to redistricting. The law fi rm submitted the lowest bid of the four at $11,978. During the debate on the four bids for redistricting, three of which were from law fi rms, San Jacinto County Judge Fritz Faulkner let it be known that he felt it was important to give the bid to a law fi rm and indicated that he favored Allison Bass and Associates who has done work for the county and is recommended by Texas Association of Counties (TAC) and Polk County. Faulkner said he had considered saving the county about $15,000 by doing the redistricting in-house but once he saw the complexity of the project decided it would be best done by attorneys who could handle any legal challenges that might be made. The only bid submitted that was not from a law fi rm was from DeskMap Systems who presented a fi xed cost of $12,500 for redistricting the county. DeskMap was represented by John Nunn, who in a written statement to the court, said 10 years ago he was the consultant that supervised the 2000 redistricting program for the county. “I thought it would only be fair that I share my background and experience with you as the county paid for my education and schooling on redistricting. At the time I also was the county census coordinator, 911 addressing administrator and the county emergency manager, along with a few other titles that were non-paying jobs,” Nunn said. “The county paid for me to go to DeskMap Systems in Austin for redistrict training. DeskMap specialized in digital map creation and was heavily involved in redistricting. They provided us with the software, training and redistricting rules and regulations,” he said. Stating that Allison Bass and Associates are a very fi ne law fi rm, Nunn pointed out the lack of experience in geographic information systems technology, extended use of spatial analysis or the development of accurate digital map databases listed in the resumes of the company’s fi ve attorneys. “The end results are that you, commissioners’ court, will be the ones that approve any redistricting plan and you will be the ones that sign off with the Justice Department. Let’s not act as if fi ling a preclearance submission with the Justice Department is a legal dead end, we do it every time we move or create a voter box. I would strongly suggest you fi nd the fi rm that can crunch the most data-track plotted information and produce exhibits that you can use. There is no need to hire a divorce lawyer when you are not even married,” Nunn said. Pct. 1 Commissioner Laddie McAnally had reservations about entering into an open-end agreement with a firm. “The proposals from the law firms are all estimates. None is closed in with an exact price so we don’t know how much it’s going to cost,” McAnally said. While backing no entity or proposal, San Jacinto County First Assistant Criminal District Attorney Michael Matthews told the court in the event that a problem comes up it could be cheaper to have a law firm on board. Agreeing, Faulkner said, “If you hit a snag, you are going to pay a lot more for somebody to clean up a mess that’s been made.” McAnally said he had attempted to contact Allison Bass and Associates on several different occasions and couldn’t get them to return his calls. “If ya’ll want to go to a none attorney have a vote now,” replied Faulkner. Pct. 3 Commissioner Butch Moody felt a law firm would be in a better position to help if a legal challenge was made if it handled the re-mapping in the first place. He made a motion to accept Allison Bass and Associates. The motion failed for lack of a second. Faulkner asked for any other motions. None was made. “We need to move forward with someone today. I understand the attorney advantage but do we want to spend an extra $2,000 and not have a fixed price,” McAnally said. “Let’s take care of other business and come back to this,” Faulkner suggested. The court went into executive session with the county’s tax attorney at 3:30 p.m. and reconvened in open court at 4:04 p.m. reporting the county will have another tax sale on Aug. 2, 2011. A renewal application for property coverage insurance was approved by the court. Approval was given to Pct. 2 Commissioner Donny Marrs to allow two road and bridge trucks and equipment from his precinct to be parked on property owned by Aleshia Marsh during the road work located on Stringtown Road. Before adjourning the session, McAnally made a motion to accept the bid from Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP for $11,978. County, state and congressional districts are examined every 10 years, following the census to determine whether or not precinct boundaries should be redrawn as a result of population increases. San Jacinto County’s population went from 22,246 in 2000 to 26,384 in 2010 according to the census. The last time county precinct boundaries were redrawn was in 1990 when Cape Royale was moved from Precinct 1 into Precinct 4 and Big Creek and Red Road area along Hwy. 59 was moved from Precinct 2 into Precinct 1. The latest census report indicates that Precinct 3 had the largest population growth in the last 10 years meaning those precinct boundaries will be changed to accommodate a more equal population balance throughout the other three county precincts.