Citizen Engagement Subcommittee Holds First Meeting
The first meeting of the Citizen Engagement Subcommittee was led by Co-chair Richard Harrell on Monday, May 17. Co-chair James Abrenio and four subcommittee members participated in discussion about public hearings, advertising, accessibility and other outreach and communication needs. Commission Co-chair Greta Harris also commented occasionally on behalf of herself and Co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko.
A major focus was the importance of public hearings for input from people across the Commonwealth. While the Constitution and Code of Virginia requires at least 3 public hearings before drawing the maps and 3 after, the subcommittee members felt more were needed. When Co-chair Abrenio raised the question as to whether they should be virtual or in-person, Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) suggested they would need to be held geographically across the state and that could determine whether the hearings would be virtual or in-person. Whichever commissioner is local to a region could attend that meeting.
Discussion then ensued about how many regions would be needed so that commissioners and the pubic don’t have to travel too far. Amigo Wade, Director of the Division of Legislative Services, suggested using the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center map which has eight regions. This map was also used previously by the Redistricting Commission Selection Committee.
There did not seem to be any expectation by the subcommittee that all commissioners would follow California’s example and attend all meetings. Instead, attention was given to ensuring a balance for each meeting that would include at least two citizens and two legislators equally divided by party.
Co-chair Harrell raised other possible complications – the lack of a commissioner from the Shenandoah or Roanoke Valley Region; residents of far Southwest and Southside with a larger geographical spread would have to travel further for in-person meetings; and broadband is not as robust in rural areas.
It was also noted by Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Mechanicsville) that once the Census data arrives the timeline for hearings will be very tight. In response to a question from Sen. Locke, DLS attorney Meg Lamb said that maps are required to be made available to the public virtually on the web site.
In conclusion, DLS staff were asked to provide cost information for 16 hearings equally divided between in-person and virtual. Eight would be held before the Census numbers are available and eight after the maps are public.
The subcommittee then turned to the topic of advertising though lack of information on costs was a problem. According to DLS’ Amigo Wade, the Redistricting Commission Selection Committee spent a total of $160,000 for a social media/print media campaign. DLS was unable, however, to immediately provide a breakdown of the expenditures by print, social media, and languages.
Co-chair Harrell pointed out the potential benefits of collaborating on publicity with civic and community organizations. Locke suggested there have been a number of organizations such as OneVirginia2021 attending commission meetings already and they could be a resource.
Democratic citizen member Brandon Hutchins expressed concern that social media costs could be substantial and asked which accounts the Commission already has. DLS’s Claire Waters said that they have about 240 followers on Twitter (https://twitter.com/commissionva). OneVirginia2021, however, has over 5,000 followers on social media and this could help.
Commission co-chair Harris commented, “A lot of people are looking at this commission to be inclusive, so we don’t want to be penny-wise and pound foolish. We need to reach as many people as possible.” Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) agreed “We don’t let the budget drive us, we drive the budget.”
Subcommittee co-chair Harrell suggested delaying a request for money until there is more information on costs.
Discussion then moved to language accessibility and DLS was asked to investigate whether groups that represent native speakers would be willing to help. Co-chair Harrell suggested the most important use of multiple languages is for the invitation to meetings and that is where costs should be prioritized. Co-chair Abrenio asked about advertising in other language print media. DLS’s Wade said they could circle back to see what the Redistricting Commission Selection Committee did.
Is there any need for translation services for commission meetings? McDougle mentioned that the General Assembly has no translation services available. Abrenio agreed that the location of the hearing would determine the need for translators. Hutchins suggested translation through Google could be used on the web site to allow citizens to ask questions.
Co-chair Harrell then asked if there were other outreach and communication issues.
Sen. Mamie Locke remembered other public hearings from 2011 when maps submitted for a university competition were dismissed out of hand. This time, serious consideration must be given to maps submitted by the public. Co-chair Abrenio added that Del. Marcus Simon had mentioned a competition at an earlier meeting, and it would be a great way to get people involved and excited.
Questions were raised about how the commission would process the information and how they would communicate if they had questions about the maps. DLS’s Meg Lamb replied, “that’s what the public meetings are for.”
The next meeting of the Citizen Engagement subcommittee will be this Thursday, May 20 at 10 a.m. when they are expected to develop public input guidelines. In the interim, the Budget and Finance Subcommittee will meet tomorrow (Wednesday, May 19) at 2 p.m.
–LWV-VA Observer Corps – Carolyn Caywood, Candy Butler, Fran Larkins