Before the Texas Legislature receives its census data and starts redrawing state voting maps, Dallas City Council is asking local citizens to eliminate the requirement of being a taxpayer or a registered voter to be on city boards and commissions—including the one that will redraw city council districts.

On February 10, by a vote of 10-5, the Dallas City Council decided to put two proposed amendments to the city charter on the May 1 ballot.

Proposition A, if approved by voters, would eliminate the requirement that members of city boards or commissions, created by the city charter, be “registered or qualified to vote.” Doing so would allow city council members to nominate noncitizens to these positions.

In response to a question from Councilmember Cara Mendelsohn, Liz Cedillo-Pereira, Dallas’ chief of equity and inclusion, said 25 percent of the city’s population are immigrants, and to her knowledge, “approximately 70 percent or so” of those immigrants are noncitizens.

According to City Attorney Chris Caso, Proposition A would affect the city planning commission, the civil service board, the park board, and the redistricting commission (which is charged with redrawing the city’s voting precincts).

“I know Councilmember Resendez said that he has somebody that he would like to consider that this would affect,” Mendelsohn said at the time. Resendez, who put forward the motion for both propositions, didn’t deny it.

“Redistricting affects residents regardless of their citizenship status,” he said.

This year, because of population changes, the Texas Legislature will conduct statewide redistricting, which is the redrawing of districts of the Legislature.

State Rep. James White (R–Hillister), who is on the Texas House Redistricting Committee, was asked in February if he supports local governments appointing noncitizens to their redistricting committees.

“Absolutely NOT, and this notion is just plain crazy,” he told Texas Scorecard. “First, this is not constitutionally or statutorily sound. It devalues citizenship and is a slap in the face of Texas citizens.”

Proposition B, meanwhile, would eliminate the requirement that members of the Civil Service Board be “qualified taxpaying” citizens. Civil service refers to government employees who are hired, not appointed. Among the duties of the Civil Service Board are setting the minimum requirements to be considered for employment.

Mayor Eric Johnson called for a record vote. Johnson and Councilmembers Adam Medrano, Chad West, Omar Narvaez, Adam Bazaldua, Paula Blackmon, Tennell Atkins, Casey Thomas, Resendez, and Mendelsohn voted yes to put the propositions on the May ballot.

During the February 10 city council meeting, Mendelsohn said the city already made similar changes to other boards and commissions last April. “We overwhelmingly voted to change over 50 boards and commissions to remove those qualifications,” she said. “This, to me, is really more of an administrative action to put these items in alignment. We’re adding four more boards and commissions to match what we’ve already done in our city code.”

Outgoing Councilmember Lee Kleinman was in opposition and tried to have the proposition sent to the next charter review commission instead.

“The redistricting commission is specifically developed to work on voting precincts and voting districts, so it is very germane to have eligible voters on that commission,” he said, adding Resendez could’ve put this through the charter commission when city council made changes to the other boards and commissions. Kleinman also said if voters reject the propositions, he believed that would be a direction to the city council to undo the earlier changes Mendelsohn referred to.

If the voters don’t want to change the charter, they’re telling us they want to have citizen representation on these boards and commissions.

At an April 8 forum, District 11 city council candidate Barry Wernick voiced his opposition to both propositions as well.

“If you don’t want noncitizens to be appointed to boards, commissions … vote no on [Propositions] 1 and 2,” he told voters. “That’s where I stand.”

Early voting for the May 1 election runs April 19-27. All 14 Dallas City Council seats are also on the ballot.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.