YOLO SUN OPINION :
With one of its most vastly interesting and revealing political discussions in recent memory, Woodland City Council unanimously decided on March 19 to continue its consideration and evaluation of options for timely satisfying the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA; please see prior Yolo Sun article just below on scroll].
Councilmember committee, Bill Marble and Tom Stallard, reported about their firm legal conclusion that: “[T]he intent of the CVRA is that a City like Woodland would be represented by districts.”
Their “settled conclusion,” said Stallard, is that the CVRA “puts [the city] in a situation where we’re legally vulnerable, with a high probablility that we will not prevail,” if taken to court.
Unusually, the city attorney (Andy Morris; Best, Best & Krieger) also stated in this public meeting that Woodland was, indeed, extremely vulnerable to litigation enforcing the CVRA and that it clearly would pay all of the costs if sued.
Morris briefly explained that his unusually outspoken legal conclusion was simply based on demographic and electoral records. Woodland’s population is 47.4% Latino and 42.1% White, with only two council seats held by a Latino in recent years.
Woodland is thus a huge legal target attached to a big bag of money.
___ City May Have Initial Chance To Draw Districts ___
Also, litigation would likely result in equitable court action to design electoral districts within the city; while, if it acts expeditiously, the city would have a first chance to draw these lines and bring them to the voters for approval.
If either these electoral districts are significantly flawed or are rejected by municipal voters, however, litigation ensues with court-designed electoral districts.
This legal process makes good sense. How would it be plausible to allow local voters to simply preserve (unlawful) at-large voting practices and reject, obstruct fundamental civil rights types of reforms. CVRA mandates that local agencies comply — whether or not voters may agree.
Perhaps this is one of the more politically queasy angles for the city to explain; that, despite what local voters might think or do, it must enact this reform, if needed: under a court-supervised process.
Evelia Genera appeared, “represent[ing] a group of community members who await your decision.” Genera stated that: “this transition is long overdue,” and implied that they have retained assistance of legal counsel.
Former Woodland Mayor, Art Pimentel, its only recently elected Latino council member, independently describes to Yolo Sun that some form of civic discussions regarding CVRA reform began occurring during his latest mayoral term, 2010-12.
Obviously, Woodland has quite a lot on the line here, without much time to act.
Expectations of at least one potential litigant (off the record) are that these “somewhat complex,” CVRA-compliant electoral districts “must” become installed for the Woodland City Council election of 2014.
Another pertinent issue is which two electoral districts would become active in 2014 (two city council seats become open that year), and which three electoral districts would await 2016.
Timing is where these city council affairs are truly getting — unnecessarily interesting — if its basic goal is to swiftly comply with the CVRA and allow the city to avoid “a court challenge,” in the words of Stallard.
___ Marble, Stallard Report ___
Marble and Stallard seemed to want to convey two messages in their report, (a) that the city is indeed a huge legal target attached to a big bag of money, and (b) that they need more time and information to figure out what to do in precise detail.
They well-accomplished some allegedly anquished hand-wringing about: “a struggle, [being] not at peace,” (Stallard) and “spending quite a little bit of time on this item,” etc. (Marble) — these sorts of statements seemingly intended as apologia and solace, consoling likely numerous, perhaps confused local citizens / voters opposed to CVRA reform. Davies and Denny clearly gave this impression, as well, within their remarks.
Marble explained that CVRA reform would save the city some money over time, since each electoral district would hold a city council election each four years. In other words, only a portion of the city would be involved in each election, whereas now the entire city is involved at each election.
Marble summarized that this reform involves: “legal compulsion, equitable aspects and [even] some benefits.”
Both Marble and Stallard earnestly appealed for public comment: “in the next short time,” (Marble), to help them find their way through this seemingly treacherous morass.
___ Report Suddenly Gets Expanded ___
Their report-approach, though, dramatically fell apart toward the end of council discussions, when Davies suddenly stated and commented upon some of these potential, precise details under consideration by Marble and Stallard: all-mail-in ballot for the CVRA ballot measure and a shift of city council elections to general elections in November — and Davies didn’t like either idea.
First Marble and then Stallard extended their remarks to address Davies’ views, clearly indicating that both of these ideas are now in their mix of evalutation — with Marble even specifically suggesting a timeline of placing the CVRA ballot measure (containing compliant district maps) upon the regular June, 2014, ballot, while also shifting council elections to November elections.
Ironically, when Davies thus (perhaps unwittingly) expanded council discussion, Stallard had just said that: “We have identifed a host of issues that are yet to be resolved,” but that those details couldn’t be raised at this time because of potential Brown Act violations: “under our rules we can’t talk to you, because we’re talking to each other,” stated Stallard.
Talking among a city council majority is certainly going on somewhere, however.
Elsewise, how did Davies know about these precise issues, especially about a potential shift of council elections to November?
Is expressed reluctance to inform the public about precise details of unresolved issues, mainly a charade to obscure political affairs?
Did Davies read about this idea in Yolo Sun and so begin to worry?
Intervention by Davies about these details of a potential plan devised by Marble and Stallard, has evaporated any proper cloak of confidentiality over council deliberations on this topic. As seen by this unintended council colloquy, public interest is ususally served by presenting adequate information.
___ Davies Wants To Delay CVRA Reform ____
Davies wants to play cagey with this legal predicament, declaring that he is: “in support of this movement, without any doubt” — but only on his own terms; while, each day that passes without a CVRA lawsuit being filed is a gracious blessing.
Davies seems oblivious to harsh legal realities, speaking of this Marble-Stallard Report as only: “the first of many reports,” as if Woodland retains the legal luxury of controlling its own time and fate over this matter.
“We should time it out and put this before the people in a regular election in 2014, having it fully implemented by 2018,” Davies continued.
“We have time. We’re not in a hurry. Let’s do it right,” proposed Davies, emphasizing a (legally deflated) course of introducing a lengthy process of public comment and discussion — a vivid (and largely irrelevant) sled for moving matters only upon Davies’ chosen timetable for this reform.
Who does: “We have time. We’re not in a hurry. Let’s do it right,” speak for? Certainly not for Latinos and others who expect, perhaps demend, more civic devotion to democratic principles.
CVRA reform has been on the table in this town for several years (as indicated by Pimentel), and the city still appears to be running behind a proper schedule for its local implementation. For example, the local school district attended to this subject in 2011.
The “right [way]” for Davies appears to mean stalling CVRA reform until after 2014 and preserving June primary elections for city council.
Admonishing against electoral districts causing council members: “to get myopic with regard to their district [and] sometimes losing a sense of the overall welfare of the city,” Davies also contended that all-mail-in ballots “disenfranchise people,” and that: “I like a June ballot. There are so many things on the November ballot,” complaining of an allegedly consequent: “lack of focus on council.”
“Disenfranchise[ment],” if indeed an abiding concern of Davies, would seemingly motivate him toward expediting CVRA reform.
Davies plainly wants to delay this urgent matter, however, not seeming inclined to support a reform timeline which will serve long overdue justice and equity, keeping the city away from litigation.
___ Denny And Hilliard Make Some Remarks ___
Council members Sean Denny and Jim Hilliard made a few remarks. Hilliard expressed his anxieties that some — “qualified” — candidates may become inaccessible using a district-based format; but, he also stated his support for the interim recommendation of Marble and Stallard.
Concerned citizens might hope that Hilliard would provide a solid third vote for timely and constructive city council action on CVRA reform.
Denny had more confusing things to say. “People still have to step forward and put their names in the hat,” he declared. At the end of the day, it’s a free system. You can go and sign up. You should have advantages one way of another, if there’s one group that’s larger than another.”
Denny is apparently addressing here, Woodland’s Latino majority. His remarks fail to demonstrate proper understanding of the legal basis of the CVRA, seeming to display some dismissive sense of disdain for this reform. His support / vote for what may become immediate, urgently necessary actions by the city to install this reform — is in question.
___ The Real Bottom Line ___
Woodland doesn’t have much time to accomplish this important and overdue task.
The city will, despite avoiding expense of an “in-depth” (Marble) evaluation of the legal need to adopt a district-based election format, still immediately require some professional nature of demographic / electoral help.
Decisions must soon be made about how to best concentrate Latino voters in either two or three electoral districts.
This key decision must be based upon a thorough analysis and evaluation of demographic and electoral information, not simply using some (extended, on Davies’ terms) roughly anecdotal testimony from the public.
Our local purpose of the CVRA is focused on reinforcing, reasonably concentrating Latino turnout and potential election, while not unlawfully abridging “communities of interest.” This specific legal mission should clearly predicate relevant city council actions.
Shifting city council elections to November general elections does not require voter approval, only three votes of the existing city council.
Timeline for CVRA reform must respect the ability for potential litigation to be completed for this purpose, with its beginning in 2014. Fairly urgent action is necessary if the city intends to — in good faith — impart belief in its ability to install this reform upon this timeline (allowing time to litigate if things don’t smoothly work out).
For instance, it local voters were to reject a CVRA ballot measure upon the June, 2014, ballot — there would not be adequate time to reasonably litigate relevant issues, install CVRA reform and then hold a properly organized city council election in November, 2014.
Potentail litigants understand these legal and practical realities. If things get dragged-out, at a certain point litigants will lose their ablility to timely and confidently influence these key affairs.
Placing this reform (CVRA compliant map, etc.) on the ballot is largely a legal pretense; while, court challenges may occur at various stages of this process, over various matters. This election, as well as any extended public comment / testimony, is not of primary concern.
___ Of Primary Concern ___
What is of primary concern?
The city must — immediately — act to retain the professional nature of demographic and electoral help, essential to designing electoral districts which are CVRA compliant — and then get to work drawing them.
Public comment / testimony should, of course, be a part of this (few months long) process
The city should then place a CVRA-compliant map at a November, 2013, election — after having formally shifted city council elections to this (general election) format. Such timing of the CVRA measure will help to reinforce voter attention and participation in this shift of city council elections.
Also and importantly, holding this CVRA-related election in November, 2013, will demonstrate necessary good-faith action by the city toward potential litigation to obtain this “long overdue” (Genera) reform.
There would then be no city council matters on the June, 2014, primary ballot, defraying the cost of what is essentially a special election in November, 2013.
Waiting until June 2014 to place this matter on a ballot encroaches upon the time needed for potential litigation and will not allow the city to properly respond. The city may well end up in court using this timeline.
The deadline for placing this CVRA ballot measure at a November, 2013, election is the first few days of August. Thus, the city council has only about four months to fully prepare this measure, in order to meet that prudent timeline.
The city should now get busy, for once it becomes clear that it will not meet such a timeline, the likelihood of CVRA litigation will greatly increase.