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Experts outline 2021 redistricting process in Tyler and Texas

Texans need to fill out the 2020 U.S. census because it will determine federal funding and whether or not they get fair representation in Congress and City Council.

That was the message that experts shared last week at the University of Texas at Tyler during a discussion about the 2020 U.S. census and the redistricting efforts that will begin in 2021 in response to the data collected.

Mark Owens, a political science professor at UT Tyler, pointed to census data showing that the Texas population has increased 17% from 2010 to 2018. Smith County’s population has increased 9.7%, and Tyler’s has increased 9.1%.

He also pointed to a study from George Washington University saying that if Texas undercounts its population by as little as 1%, it will be giving up $300 million in federal funding per year.

“That’s about $1,500 a person,” said Stephanie Swanson, who handles redistricting and census issues for the League of Women Voters of Texas. “The money that we pay to the federal government comes back to us somehow.”

Swanson said the Texas Legislature did not allocate funding for census outreach during the 2019 session, leaving a heavy burden on counties, cities and civic organizations to get people to fill out the survey. The Legislature meets next in 2021.

“California is actually the most similar in size in terms of total population and in terms of Hispanic population and immigrant population,” Swanson said. “They’re going to spend $200 million. In the meantime, Texas has spent $0.”

Owens said the statewide population increase could mean Texas gets three more seats in Congress. There are currently 36. He said that could mean all the current districts are redrawn, including Texas’ 1st Congressional District, which includes Tyler.

He said East Texas would have a lot of say in the process because the Legislature’s 20-member Redistricting Committee includes two from East Texas: Sens. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, and Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville.

Swanson said her organization also would like to see Texas appoint a public commission to oversee different steps in the redistricting process for Congress and the Texas Legislature. She said the state hasn’t agreed to that, but local governments could set up their own public commissions.

The Smith County Commissioners Court has hired a law firm to draw the county’s precincts, for offices such as Commissioners Court seats, justices of the peace and constables, among others. The Tyler City Council historically works with staff attorneys and a law firm when it makes redistricting decisions.

Deborah Pullum, the city attorney for Tyler, said estimates show the population of Tyler will increase between 9% and 11% from the 2010 census to the 2020 census, and that means the districts will need to be redrawn to ensure they are equal in size.

Districts are allowed to vary by specific percentage points, but must be as equal as possible because of the “one person, one vote” doctrine, she said.

“You know where our growth is,” Pullum said. “That’s going to be primarily around the southern areas of town. We’re spreading out a little bit over on the west side of town, and then we have pockets in the northeast that are also growing.”

The Tyler City Council has six districts. District 1 is in the southern part of Tyler, between Old Jacksonville Highway and South Broadway Avenue. District 6 is between South Broadway Avenue and Paluxy Drive. District 5 is the southeastern part of Tyler, near UT Tyler.

District 2 is referred to as west, and includes neighborhoods around a former historically black college, Butler College. District 3 is commonly referred to as northwest and includes the Texas College district. Both are predominantly African American and were drawn after a movement in the 1960s and 1970s to ensure voting rights.

District 4 includes most neighborhoods north of Fifth Street, east of Broadway Avenue and south of East Gentry Parkway, plus some neighborhoods east of Loop 323. The district had a significant Hispanic population when it was last drawn in 2010, but it was not majority-Hispanic.

Pullum said Districts 2 and 3 are called majority-minority districts, and District 4 is called an opportunity district. Those are legal terms that mean a minority population makes up more than 50% or more than 35% of a district, respectively.

“Council District No. 4, I believe, is going to really need to be looked at,” Pullum said. “We’re going to be looking at the numbers between 2, 3, and 4, and then 4 and 5.

“Once you get that rebalancing done, then, again, it comes back to looking at each one of those districts and the types of facilities after the lines have been drawn, how that affects the schooling, the funding, particularly public infrastructure, streets, water, sewer and all of that,” Pullum said.

Pullum said there would be public meetings for residents to give input. She said those meetings likely would occur during a public process between March 2021 and August 2021, and the City Council would finish the districts at the end of 2021.

Decisions on district maps would be made at public City Council meetings, and neighborhood feedback meetings may also be held, depending on what the City Council decides, she said.

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Local
Hundreds participate in annual Out of the Darkness Walk, raise funds for suicide prevention

Over 600 people, toting signs and wearing shirts paying tribute to their lost loved ones, gathered along the Rose Rudman Trail Saturday to participate in the annual Out of the Darkness Tyler Community Walk.

The event is held during national Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in support of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s mission to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.

During an opening ceremony, participants were encouraged to wear colored bead necklaces representing how they had been affected by suicide.

Brittney Nichols, co-chair of the walk, said the event aims to decrease the stigma around discussing the topic of suicide in order to navigate people toward resources and to provide a place of healing for those who have been affected.

“I want people to come to this event to realize they are not alone,” Nichols said. “That they’re not the only one struggling. They’re not the only one who’s lost somebody. I think the isolation is dangerous and that you need to connect with other people.

“It’s so healing to come here and to see that ‘Hey, I’m going through this, but I don’t have to go through this by myself.’ I also want them to see that there are resources out there and that there are ways that they can get involved and programming that can make a difference on this issue.”

According to the Out of the Darkness Tyler Community Walk website, $25,562 has been raised for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to invest in new research, create educational programs, advocate for public policy and support survivors of suicide loss.

For more information, contact tylerootdwalk@gmail.com.


Local
Breckenridge Village of Tyler celebrates 'community of people who are often forgotten'

Early Saturday morning, Breckenridge Village of Tyler residents and others gathered at KE Bushman’s Celebration Center for the 11th annual men’s breakfast. Over 400 people attended.

Breckenridge Village of Tyler is self-described as “a caring residential community for adults with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities.” It has been in operation for 20 years.

Linda Taylor, associate executive director of advancement for BVT, says its mission is to care for people who can never care for themselves.

“Without a safe place, they might be abused, neglected, so we provide that safe place for them,” she said. “It’s a home. There’s nothing institutional about Breckenridge.”

“They’re not just administrators, they know all the residents by name, and they’re in it. They’re being the hands and feet of Jesus,” says keynote speaker and Christian radio spokesman Mike Harper.

The event kicked off with a classic car show and live music by Dale Cummings in the parking lot.

“It’s a beautiful morning with all these cars. I know nothing about them, but I like the way they look,” Harper joked.

The breakfast portion of the event was opened with the Pledge of Allegiance led by the grandchildren of Pierre de Wet, a longtime friend and supporter of Breckenridge Village of Tyler.

De Wet, who died in 2016, was a driving force in raising funds for BVT. Before his death, de Wet declared that BVT was going to raise $3 million and build three new residential homes.

“Today’s event is celebrating the fact that we were able to raise that money, we were able to build those homes,” Taylor said.

The theme of the event was “God Bless America, God Bless Texas.” This theme was echoed in country artist Casey Rivers’ performance of two songs during the breakfast: “Proud To Be an American,” and “In God We Still Trust.” He also joined the residents of Breckenridge in dance and song with “Blue Suede Shoes.”

“It’s a special place for me, it’s a special place for this community, and it’s a special place for the families and residents,” Rivers said. “It’s a special place because it’s a God-fearing place.”

This year was the first that BVT is awarding the Pierre de Wet Award — recognition for those who are doing work and benefiting those who are disabled.

State Rep. Matt Schaeffer, R-Tyler, was given this honor after leading on House Bill 3117, which provides better care options for adult Texans with developmental disabilities.

Taylor says: “The goal of the event is to celebrate a community of people who are often forgotten, and we celebrate a man that brought hope.”

Keynote speaker Harper shared his personal experience of becoming a Christian, and gave a call to action to the audience: “Breckenridge is putting faith into action, and we’re called to be a part of that. We all have two hands, and two feet, we have a heart, and we all have the ability to do something.”

For information about residential care, program activities or to give to BVT, visit www.breckenridgevillage.com or call 903- 596-8100