The Killeen City Council moved forward Tuesday with an interlocal contract with an Austin-based law firm, to provide redistricting services.
Council members approved the contract with Bickerstaff Heath Delgado in a 6-1 vote during a regular meeting Tuesday in the City Hall Council Chambers.
Killeen Mayor Pro Tem Debbie-Nash King made the motion to approve the contract. Councilmember Rick Williamson moved to second it.
Councilmember Mellisa Brown was the lone vote against approving the contract.
The city will now enter into the interlocal cooperation contract with Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta, along with Temple, the Temple Independent School District and Bell County. However, each of these entities will utilize the service independently as needed.
Bickerstaff will provide redistricting services for Killeen’s voting boundaries for a total sum of $27,190.
The law firm will provide an initial assessment to determine any imbalances within the districts. From there, associates will work with city staff to create a redistricting process to get boundaries within compliance of federal voting laws.
Redistricting is necessary every 10 years, in connection with the U.S. Census population figures.
The 2020 Census figures are expected to be released sometime in the next two months.
Before council members voted on the redistricting services agreement Tuesday, one resident took to the podium to address the council. He said he highly encouraged the council to agree to the contract.
“None of you have the experience to do it on your own. Don’t even try to do it.” the resident said. “You guys are having problems with meeting quorum. If you don’t do this, I will file a recall referendum, and I will use it.”
The majority of council agreed the more than $27,000 contract for the services was necessary to ensure accuracy within voting districts.
However, Brown wanted the city to look into other options before moving forward. Last week during a workshop meeting, Brown suggested talking with experts from Texas A&M University Central-Texas to see if they could provide the services needed, potentially for free. Brown said she had reached out to the college since there were no objections from the council to do so.
“They have a lot of different areas where they can help advise us on this.” Brown said. “If our local campus isn’t able to directly assist they can expand that reach or us in order to have that assistance. This would more than likely be no cost.
“I have full confidence in our city attorney and her ability to abide by the law on this. I do have full faith in the ability of this council. I and my peers are intelligent. I just feel like this would not be a good use of money. $27,000 could be going towards three street lights anywhere in the city for safety. We were all elected for a reason — because the voters felt that we were capable.”
Other council members of council saw the decision as a do-or-die agreement, as residents would be living with the results for the next 10 years.
“There is nothing more sacred in our democracy than the vote. redistricting happens every decade. We must ensure that we get this right.” Williams said. “If I need brain surgery, I’m not looking for a bargain, I want to live. We have to have someone that we can pick up the phone and call immediately. We cannot put our hope in someone showing up. We have to deal with this for the next 10 years.”
Bickerstaff was picked by the city as a potential provider for redistricting after interviews with other law firms. Killeen determined Bickerstaff to be the most experienced; according to a staff report, the firm had successfully provided joint redistricting services for Bexar County, the City of San Antonio, and Alamo College District; Brazos County, the Cities of Bryan and College Station, and Bryan ISD; and Galveston County, the City of Galveston, and Galveston ISD, according to the staff report.
Motivation to approve the contract circled around issues during the May 1 election. Dozens of voters were put into the wrong districts, while some were given the wrong ballots.Voting issues were more widespread in District 4. Bell County voting officials said voting problems on Carpet Lane affected 39 registered voters in 24 addresses in that district.
In other business, a Star Award was set to be given to a Killeen resident, but Director of Communications Janelle Ford said Tuesday, the recipient will receive the award during a meeting Aug. 10.
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