Bexar County Commissioners approve redistricting plan for their precincts
Bexar County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a redistricting plan based on the 2020 U.S. Census.
The plan strives to evenly divide the county's more than 2 million residents equally among each of the four county precincts.
The approved major changes include moving all of Helotes into Precinct 3, moving an area north of Loop 410 and Vance Jackson from Precinct 2 to Precinct 3 and moving some neighborhoods just east of 281 on the far Southeast Side from Precinct 1 into Precinct 4.
Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores proposed moving those Southeast Side neighborhoods out of her precinct and into the precinct of Commissioner Tommy Calvert.
Calvert objected to the moving of 5,100 new voters from the precinct of Clay-Flores into his precinct just as he faces re-election.
"I'm on the ballot. You are not on the ballot and I would appreciate the respect to work this out at a later time,” he said.
Despite Calvert's objection, commissioners went ahead and approved the redistricting plan including Clay-Flores' proposal in time for the Nov. 13 opening of the candidate filing period for the March primary elections.
In other action, commissioners voted to add new two jury coordinators and boost the pay of the Central Jury Room Bailiff as jury selection continues to undergo change during the pandemic.
County Administrative Judge Ron Rangel said there are 30,000 criminal cases waiting to be heard by juries. Jury selection is now ramping back up from the pandemic to 6,500 jury summons a week to clear the backlog.
Rangel said jurors are now all being qualified via Zoom so more staff is needed to help them access or navigate Zoom.
"It takes three people in order to qualify individuals who say they have either have problems not being qualified or they have exemption issues. It takes three people to work with the judge to go through those every single morning to prepare for trial. Currently, because of Zoom and because of the way we have to do it virtually, it's going to take more individuals," he said.
The central jury room bailiff is now responsible for monitoring the virtual and in-person jury seating process, which Rangel believes merited the pay raise.
Rangel said the days of seeing a packed central jury room or jurors huddled in courthouse hallways may be over thanks to Zoom.
Commissioners also approved the start up costs for the county's new Managed Assigned Counsel Department. The department will help assign legal counsel to indigent defendants.
The department will work with the public defender's office to assign its 30 attorneys to those who cannot afford to hire their own attorney.
The department's new manager — Jim Bethke — has years of experience and has served as the director of the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff urged Bethke and his new department to get busy to relieve the county jail population.
"You want to give every defendant a proper representation, but you don't want him sitting in jail for a year and that happens," Wolff said.
The jail population and staffing shortages are behind overtime costs that have been a source of friction between commissioners and the sheriff.
In other action commissioners:
- Authorized $6.5 million for the purchase of a building from the Baptist University of the Americas to serve as the new home of the Bexar County Crime Lab. County Facilities Manager Dan Curry told commissioners the purchase of the building at 7838 Barlite Boulevard was the most cost effective option. He also said it puts the crime lab's operations much closer to its top two clients, the San Antonio Police Department and the Bexar County Sheriff's Office.
- Approved the continued design by architect Debra J. Dockery of facilities at the county's urban farm on the East Side, including a new $550,000 office for the Bexar County Agrilife Extension Service
- Approved plans by the Food Policy Council of San Antonio to plant and maintain a food forest in an underutilized area of Padre Park on the South Side. The 3.7 acres includes space for educational talks about the food forest and how indigenous peoples used them and how they can feed people today
- Ratified a grant application for $1.5 million from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to be applied to a $5.3 million project to build a large park on the Southwest Side, off Talley Road and along Medio Creek. The 57 acres was previously purchased by the county as part of a flood control project. It will include trails, interpretive information about the indigenous peoples who lived along the creek 12,000 years ago, as well play areas, a basketball court, and parking. Construction may be completed as early as 2023.
- Appointed Alfredo Tavera to fill the unexpired term of Precinct 1, Place 2, Justice of the Peace Ciro Rodriguez. The term runs through Jan. 1, and then the office will be abolished. No other county precincts have more than one J.P. Rodriguez came on board to assist with a large number of cases in Precinct 1 but resigned in October over workload tensions with the Place 1 JP in that precinct, Robert Tejeda. Tavera has worked as an associate J.P. and part-time San Antonio Municipal Judge.