PALO PINTO — County commissioners redrew their precinct lines on Friday and decided to consult Palo Pinto County's five justices of the peace and constables about eliminating one position for each under once-a-decade redistricting that got underway last week. The court ultimately backed off of dropping the positions later Monday.
The redistricting process determines who represents which residents. That is, some residents will find themselves voting in a different county precinct in the March 2022 primaries and November 2022 general election and through the decade.
Commissioners also set a public hearing on the new political lines at 9 a.m. on Nov. 15 in the Courthouse in Palo Pinto.
The court is somewhat under the gun to approve new maps taking in population shifts since 2010, thanks to the COVID-delayed Census, with filing for candidates beginning Nov. 13.
The process during Friday's workshop was a sort controlled chaos as commissioners, Elections Administrator Laura Watkins, 911 Addressing Coordinator Jennifer Fabian and others interacted by Zoom with consultant John Redington in Austin.
Scrutinizing a map superimposed with Census population blocks, through the link with Austin, the officials directed Redington to try moving this population to the precinct next door or another block of residents somewhere else in a 140-minute workshop.
Their goal was to design commissioner precincts as evenly distributed as possible. Their yardstick was the percentage of population change, up or down, and the difference between the new precinct with the greatest population and the least populated precinct needed to be within 5 percent. (The legal standard is 10 percent, but Redington urged the more rigorous benchmark).
"Make Mineral Wells big again," Fabian told Redington, asking him to enlarge the city's population census blocks, which were actual street-by-street blocks when he complied.
The county's largest population center, Mineral Wells was the logical place to find concentrations of people to more immediately move the percentages in the desired direction.
Commissioners then shifted populations in and out of different precincts until each official agreed with the outcome.
The four also made changes to lines in the unincorporated parts of the county, but the percentages didn't move where they wanted them until they dove into the city.
The court finally turned to the justice of the peace and constable lines, which must correspond. County Judge Shane Long explained eliminating a JP court will cut a constable position.
"I think we can save us a lot of money," Pct. 3 Commissioner Mike Pierce said, estimating $102,000 while the court focused on justice of the peace.
Pct. 2 Commissioner Mike Reed appeared to defend Pct. 3 Justice of the Peace Shawn Humphries, noting many north county residents keep the Graford-based judge busy.
"They rely on him a lot," Reed said of Humphries.
Noting his eight years as a justice of the peace, Long also insisted commissioners meet with the other elected officials before deciding whether or not to go from five to four JP/constable precincts.
Commissioners held another redistricting workshop Monday afternoon, where the topic was dropped when discussion revealed a majority of the court opposed eliminating any JP or constable positions. That pleased some 35 people, including those elected officials, who were poised to give the court an earful.