The city's massive budget shortfall may be the most pressing issue Houston councilmembers face, but it's not the most contentious. That honor goes to redistricting, which has to balance the complexities of minority and voter rights, election laws, census and population data and pending litigation.
Councilmembers wrestled with the issue in a special meeting where City Attorney David Feldman warned them if they don't move forward with redistricting, the courts will.
"As your chief legal representative, what I see is the city being placed in a legal quagmire with respect to the 2011 election, if this council doesn't make the determination and a federal court does, as I would fully expect."
Councilmembers continued to grill Feldman and city contractor Jerry Wood over the numbers Wood used to validate adding two new council seats. This is Councilmember Mike Sullivan.
"It's my opinion that we have serious inconsistencies at this point. And if these inconsistencies are coming up this early in the process, it gives me cause for great concern. We have one living human being apparently in charge of all this information and data."
Wood's report shows the census undercounted the city's population by several hundred people.
Former Houston Councilmember Carroll Robinson was at the meeting and rebuked councilmembers for stalling on the issue.
"This is not about your right at the council table or the dilution of your vote at the council table. The charter provision is there because the right of minority voters in this city was violated. They were discriminated against. So please stop talking about the dilution of your rights."
Robinson told the group the city has long used inflated numbers for budgetary purposes and it is disingenuous for the council to quibble over what amounts to a statistical error.
The city is required by law to add two new seats when the population exceeds 2.1 million. According to the census, Houston is about 500 people short of that mark.