Engagement Subcommittee Still in Need of Outreach Proposals

The Virginia Redistricting Commission’s Public Engagement Subcommittee met June 25 and wrestled with the dilemma that the commission has received no proposals in response to its RFP for communications and outreach services.

After an hour-long discussion, the subcommittee agreed to extend the deadline for the original RFP until July 5, but to also break its original RFP into sections in hopes of receiving some responses. (The original RFP is here.) 

The subcommittee’s co-chairs, Democrat James Abrenio of Fairfax and Republican Richard Harrell of South Boston, said the two of them had discussed the problem and ways to address it. They expressed concern that the RFP may have been overwhelming to potential respondents, and sought guidance for what they could do legally to encourage responses. Several of the commission’s citizen members said they were prepared to publicize the opportunity through their social media networks if it were permissible.

Division of Legislative Services lawyers cautioned members about how they could communicate that information to avoid “talking about redistricting.” DLS staff acknowledged that they had not promoted the RFP to interested persons because, in the words of lawyer Meg Lamb, “we don’t have the contacts.”

In response to questions, DLS staff said they would create a separate page for the RFPs on the commission’s website to make it easier for persons to publicize.

Like the commission’s Budget and Finance Subcommittee, which met earlier in the day, the Public Engagement Subcommittee had to wrestle with new meeting requirements that will go into effect with the lifting of the Covid-19 “state of emergency” on June 30. Until the law can be amended, the commission will be required to achieve an in-person quorum for its meetings. The subcommittee considered holding a meeting on July 2, but then gave the DLS staff additional instructions so that the process could continue to move forward without the need to meet in person. The subcommittee may schedule a meeting right before the full commission meeting at 10 a.m. on July 6 to review where the situation stands.

DLS staff were asked to break out the RFP into separate components for “communications” and “outreach” services. DLS staff members said the commission’s current “web developer” had capabilities for overlaying “communities of interest” maps and proposed new district boundaries onto district maps, but some commissioners expressed concern about how such information would be managed and assessed.

In its other major business, the subcommittee reviewed the state of planning for the public hearings it will hold before and after it receives the 2020 census data. The first round of in-person hearings are tentatively scheduled for these dates, regions and locations

Tuesday July 13 at 5:30 p.m. for the Southside Region in at Longwood University in Farmville

Tuesday July 20 at 2 p.m. for the Hampton Roads Region at Hampton University in Hampton

Tuesday July 27 at 4 p.m. for the Northern Region at George Mason University in Fairfax County

Tuesday August 3 at 6 p.m. for the Central Region in the Pocohontas Building in Richmond.

The General Assembly is scheduled to be meeting in a special session on the last of those four dates. Virtual hearings are also planned for July 15 for the West Central Region; for July 22 for the Eastern Region; for July 29 for the Southwest Region; and August 5 for the Valley Region. More information about the regions, as defined by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Policy, is available here.

The commission previously set a guideline of having at least four commissioners at each hearing, evenly divided between the two parties and between citizen and legislator members. It was noted that a Republican legislator is still needed for the hearings on July 20 and 27. Subcommittee members said they hoped they could meet the guideline (although not required by law) so they would not have to change the meeting date to do so. (Currently, at least six commission members have indicated their availability for each of the first four in-person hearings.) Another round of eight hearings will be held once the commission draws its maps. 

Details of the tentative schedule are available here.

The subcommittee has renamed itself the Public Engagement Subcommittee; members of the public pointed out that redistricting applies to all residents of Virginia, not just “citizens.”

–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-Falls Church

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