After a city council vote, Dallas voters will decide whether or not to allow noncitizens to be appointed to the four boards and commissions listed in the city’s charter, including the commission that draws city voting precincts. With the Texas Legislature set to tackle statewide redistricting, a state representative said local governments shouldn’t be appointing noncitizens.
With a 10-5 vote last Wednesday, Dallas City Council approved asking voters in the May 1 election whether noncitizens can influence city government by serving on the boards and commissions listed in the city charter. Voters will also be asked to consider removing the requirement of being a taxpayer in order to serve on the civil service board. This vote will occur alongside city council elections this year.
According to City Attorney Chris Caso, the boards and commissions in the charter are the city planning commission, the civil service board, the park board, and the redistricting commission (the one charged with redrawing the city’s voting precincts).
Council members submit nominations to boards and commissions. Then, after a screening process, the full council votes on these nominations. This motion was put forward by Councilmember Jaime Resendez.
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 that amount are noncitizens. She added the department is working with the Welcoming Communities Office to have people apply for citizenship “when and if they are eligible.”
“The reason this is so personal to me is because my parents are formerly undocumented immigrants,” Resendez said. “If my parents wanted to serve on the parks board, they wouldn’t have been able to do so.”
Councilmember Cara Mendelsohn mentioned Resendez has someone in mind who would benefit from the redistricting commission. “I know Councilmember Resendez said that he has somebody that he would like to consider that this would affect,” she said.
Resendez didn’t deny it. “Redistricting affects residents regardless of their citizenship status,” he said.
This year, the Texas Legislature do statewide redistricting—redrawing the districts of the Legislature—because of population changes. Inquiries sent to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton on Dallas’ vote—and what guarantees there will be of maximum election integrity—went unanswered before publication time.
State Rep. James White (R–Hillister), who is on the Texas House Redistricting Committee, was asked 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.” He added the Texas Legislature should not allow this.
During the 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.”
Councilmember Lee Kleinman opposed the motion and tried to have it 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 the changes to the other boards and commissions.
“The change of the charter needs to be a very deliberative process, and that’s why we have a commission,” Kleinman said.
Furthermore, Kleinman felt if voters say no, it would send a message about the rest of the boards and commissions. “I would call that a further direction to the council to rescind the changes we made in Chapter 8,” he said. “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.”
“I feel like local government … as a nonpartisan elected official, as a person who serves all of Dallas and all the people of Dallas … everybody needs to have a seat at the table and a voice,” Mendelsohn said. “This is not our decision to make. It’s really a matter of transparency to allow our voters to have the input. And if they don’t want it, they’ll vote it down, and if they do, they’ll vote it up.”
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.
Citizens will make a decision on this issue on May 1.