ESD election bill would create single-member districts

EAST TEXAS (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - A bill filed to make Smith County Emergency Services District board positions elected seats would create single-member districts similar to city councils and TISD trustees.

Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, said he proposed an amendment to create districts rather than "at-large" elections before Senate Bill 1856 passed unanimously out of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations.

Eltife and Rep. Matt Scha­e­fer, R-Tyler, filed legislation, House Bill 3257, that would require members on two five-person volunteer boards, which oversee emergency service districts Nos. 1 and 2.

By law, board members are appointed by county com­missioners for two-year terms.

ESD No. 1 includes Lindale Fire Department and collected less than 6 cents per $100 valuation, or $639,000 in 2012.

ESD No. 2 includes Arp, Bullard, Chapel Hill, Dixie, Flint-Gresham, Jackson Heights, Noonday, Red Springs, Troup, Whitehouse and Winona volunteer fire departments and collected more than $4 million from taxpayers in 2012 based on a property tax rate of 8.46 cents per $100 valuation.

Eltife said creating districts is the "fairest way to ensure true representation" on the boards.

"That's one of the concerns I did hear," he said. "Creating districts will ensure everyone is represented."

Firefighters at both ESD districts opposed the bill in any form initially because they worried it might deter volunteers from seeking elected positions because prospective candidates would have to campaign. The elections would also be an added expense to the districts.

Smith County Firemen's Association President Johnny Brown said district officials still believe the appointment process is working now that a committee system has been created to vet candidates.

However, he said the amendment was a compromise that would fairly distribute representation.

Schaefer said he and Eltife have discussed the bills and that he has no objections to drawing individual district lines for the positions. He said there are pros and cons to having at-large seats or drawing individual lines. His chief concern is that board members who oversee millions of dollars in taxpayer money answer directly to voters.

In a recent interview Schaefer said drawing individual district lines would introduce "difficulties," because it would require involvement by the Department of Justice, which reviews redistricting lines to ensure they comply with the Voting Rights Act.

Eltife said it will require more time and effort on the part of local officials, but he believes it is the best way to create board memberships representative of ESD Nos. 1 and 2.

Schaefer said his bill is expected to move out of committee soon, and amendments might be presented on the House floor.

The bills are expected to move easily through the Senate and House because they only affect local juris­dictions and face fewer hurdles than highly contested legislation.


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