Facing a deadline to approve redrawn county commissioner precinct boundaries, Bexar County commissioners signed off on a plan that would balance the population between precincts 2 and 3.
During the discussion Tuesday, an argument erupted between Precinct 1 Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores and Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Calvert over an amendment to the redistricting plan that was later adopted by commissioners. That plan originally did not affect either of their precincts.
Attorneys Rolando Rios and Jose Garza presented county commissioners with three possible redistricting options in October that would rebalance the population among the four Bexar County precincts. Precinct 3 saw greater population growth than other parts of the county, so boundaries needed to be redrawn to follow federal law. Rios and Garza told commissioners that Tuesday was their deadline to approve redistricting changes before candidate filing opens for the March 2022 primary.
Commissioners approved a plan that shrinks the population difference to about 7% between the largest commissioners precinct and the smallest, which is Precinct 2. Federal law states that while the districts must strive for equal population sizes, the difference between the largest and smallest precincts can be below 10% deviation.
The adopted redistricting plan reunites all of Leon Valley into Precinct 2 and most of Helotes into Precinct 3, Rios said. Previously, about half of Helotes was in Precinct 2 and half in Precinct 3, while 70% of Leon Valley was in Precinct 2 and 30% in Precinct 3.
“We moved 96% [of Helotes] into one precinct,” said Rios, pointing out that city limits do not necessarily follow the boundaries of voting precincts so all of Helotes couldn’t be included in the same county precinct. Voting precincts cannot be split by commissioner district boundaries.
But an amendment that moved some residents from Precinct 1 to 4 prompted sharp words between Calvert and Clay-Flores.
Clay-Flores asked on Tuesday to move three voting precincts from her district into Calvert’s district. Those voting precincts represent 5,168 residents, she said. All three of the voting precincts are clustered on the southeast portion of Precinct 3 and would be constitutionally allowable, according to Rios.
“It keeps my precinct closer to the ideal [population size], and makes Commissioner Calvert’s precinct closer to the ideal as well,” Clay-Flores said.
According to Rios and Garza’s calculations, the “ideal” population size is 502,331 residents per county commissioner precinct. The plan approved by commissioners on Tuesday does not achieve that balance, but each precinct’s population is within 5% of that ideal number.
Calvert immediately rejected Clay-Flores’ proposed amendment, suggesting that commissioners should consider that change at a time when the 2022 election cycle would not be affected. County commissioner seats in precincts 4 and 2 are up for election next year, along with the county judge seat, and Calvert is seeking reelection to a third term.
“There could be some sort of primary opponent [moving] into my district” as a result of the change, Calvert said.
Calvert added that he had not been able to discuss Clay-Flores’ amendment with her before Tuesday’s meeting, which would have been preferred.
“It is not customary of the court to have an ah-ha style of precinct adoption,” he said. “It’s traditionally worked out among members of the court, as with Precincts 2 and 3. This is not something that I was aware of until 9 o’clock this morning.”
Clay-Flores countered that she had attempted to contact Calvert directly, but he had not responded. Later, she told reporters that she and Calvert had spoken “briefly” about shifting those voting precincts after the last commissioners court meeting, but that he did not respond to her requests for further conversations.
“We had a deadline, and today was that deadline,” she said. “It’s what we do as elected officials every 10 years, with the census. It is about doing the right thing for my constituents and about aligning the population. I have attempted to reach out, so that’s the best I can do.”
Calvert disputed that Clay-Flores had contacted him, saying that he received no calls or texts. He added that he believes someone within those three voting precincts plans to run against him in the upcoming March primary, but declined to say who it was.
“It’s very curious and peculiar, but we’re going to be fine,” he said after Tuesday’s meeting.
Clay-Flores said she didn’t intend to redistrict a potential primary challenger into Calvert’s precinct.
“I make my decisions on what my constituents need as their representative elected official, not based on election cycles,” she said. “So I don’t know anything about his opponents or even if he has opponents. That’s not something that I’ve heard.”
Clay-Flores, Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2), and County Judge Nelson Wolff ultimately voted in favor of the change to the redistricting plan. Commissioner Trish DeBerry (Pct. 3) and Calvert voted against.