Does Oxnard press release misrepresent Council vote on district voting?

By George Miller

 

Oxnard put out a press release yesterday that the Council had decided to go to district level voting for Council seats, that the process was now underway to do so and was done under the threat of litigation which would almost certainly prevail.  That is not exactly the truth, which we’ll get into.

We have run several articles on Oxnard’s conversation on voting for councilmen by district rather than at large. There are pros and cons to either way, but Oxnard decided to elect the Mayor and Council at large. Federal and state voting rights acts consider that district level representation may be more Democratic in certain cases and that it may even reinforce racial disparity not to do so in these cases.

In the case of Oxnard, which was 74% Latino and 14% Caucasian, according to the 2010 census, this should not even be an issue. If Oxnard Citizens wanted an ALL Latino Council, then they would already have one. But, in fact, they have elected multiple ethnicities over the years, possibly because they wanted the best, or at least the most popular candidates. They have more common sense than some of the more extremist community leaders who are pushing this so hard.

In spite of this, “racial justice” and the threat of litigation and inevitable defeat to resistance were offered as the main reasons for wanting this. This in spite of the fact that Oxnard does not fall in the category the law specifies, as multiple Council members and speakers conceded at the 11-27-17 Council meeting.

A legislator who wrote the state bill is now making a fortune by challenging municipalities to implement district voting, or be subject to potentially unlimited litigation. To date, he has always won or settled and collects court costs in the bargain, it sounds like a no-lose proposition for him, which the legislature and courts have enabled him to do and have not changed their stance on. In addition, “demographers” get sweetheart, no-bid contracts to draw new election maps.

The Council did NOT vote to implement district level voting, even though some would have probably liked to. What they voted for was to consider it, in an orderly fashion, with transparency and public debate, whether to do it and how it might be implemented. That was made quite clear at the meeting and in the agenda.

However, the City issued a press release afterward that basically said it was a done deal and furthermore mentioned that the litigation threat and perceived inevitability was a factor in all this. However, they did not mention the groundswell of opposition that has arisen in many communities and the group of cities within the League of California Cities, which Oxnard is a member of and supposedly very active in.  Some of that is covered HERE.

I did hear back from Mayor Flynn the day after the meeting. We discussed all of these points and he reiterated that Oxnard should not be legally required to go to district voting, that he saw no need to do it for the reasons cited in the law, but that he would keep an open mind during the due diligence process/public discussion, etc. He was very big on preserving a voter-elected Mayor..

I sent a protest of the City’s press release to the Council, City Attorney, Publicity Director and City Manager. Today, I heard from Assistant City Manager Jesus Nava, who has, among many functions, publicity, reporting to him.

Nava did see my points, but also felt that the Council was in favor of going to district voting, even though they voted only to consider it. Got that? When I told him of one Council Member at the meeting who specifically reinforced and got assurance that the vote was for consideration and not approval of district voting, he seemed to think that the Council Member’s stated preference for district voting overrode that.

When I mentioned the constitutional challenge and attempted injunction to suspend the law pending adjudication underway and the fact it wasn’t mentioned in the release, he merely listened, with no response that I can recall. Aaron Starr and I both brought the challenges up at the meeting. I previously wrote to City officials about it. So, it should be on-record. But, the release did mention the threat of litigation if Oxnard does NOT cave on the issue. A bit one-sided reporting?

When  I asked Mr. Nava to issue a corrected press release, he said that he would talk to City Manager Gregg Nyhoff, the City Attorney and others, but opined that a correction would probably not be forthcoming, but that they would be more careful in the future.

So, what is wrong with this? Two things:

  1. It gives the public the incorrect message that this is a done, inevitable deal, so move along.
  2. It puts the City publicity machinery in the position of political advocacy, rather than objectively informing the public of the facts, which diminishes their credibility and perceived objectivity.

Our own opinion? There are pros and cons to district level representation and multiple ways to do it. We see no real net advantage to it. But we REALLY object to the pressure tactics, disregard or twisting of the law and Constitution being used to ram it through.

If you would like to learn more about the challenge to the law, read one of our past articles:

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Nov. 28, 2017

City of Oxnard Begins Process to Move to District-Based Elections

Oxnard, California  – The Oxnard City Council on Monday adopted a resolution declaring its intent to transition to  district-based elections, a move that would enable city voters to elect a council member who lives in their district.

The City presently uses an at-large voting system, in which four council members and one mayor are elected by registered voters of the entire City. Under a district election system, the City would be divided into separate districts, with each district electing a council member from that district. The mayoral position will continue to be elected on an at-large basis.

“While the City believes its current election system is consistent with the law and does not reflect racially-polarized voting in violation of state or federal voting rights, the cost of litigation to defend the at-large system, coupled with the track record of other municipalities that have fought similar challenges, is too great,” said City Attorney Stephen Fischer.

If successful, a lawsuit would force a district-based election system upon the City, with districts drawn and election dates for each district determined by the courts, Fischer said. Other municipalities that have fought challenges to their own at-large voting systems incurred upwards of $4.5 million in legal fees.

To assist in the drawing of districts that meet legal requirements, the City also agreed to retain the services of National Demographics Corporation, for an amount not to exceed $70,000. National Demographics will coordinate public outreach at public hearings and through the online interactive system, which would allow the public to draw and submit proposed districting plans for the City Council’s consideration.

Pursuant to Elections Code Section 10010, the City of Oxnard will conduct a series of public hearings over the next 90 days to receive community input on the proposed electoral districts for City Council seats. The tentative date for the first public hearing is Dec. 12, to take place in the Council Chambers.

Information on the process, as well as future public hearing dates, will be available in English and Spanish on the city website: www.oxnard.org/districts. For more information, contact Michelle Ascencion at Michelle.Ascencion@oxnard.org or at 805-385-7803.

Follow us on social media at www.twitter.com/CityofOxnard (@CityofOxnard), www.facebook.com/CityofOxnard and www.vimeo.com/cityofoxnard.

Carri Karuhn

Manager of Media Relations/Community Outreach
_______________

Oxnard votes to consider district election of Council Members

Oxnard votes to consider district election of Council MembersBy George Miller On Monday 11-27-17, the Oxnard City Council, in a special meeting, discussed and voted unanimously for consideration of transitioning to a district-based representation system on the council, instead of the current at-large elections of five Council members and a Mayor. They then voted to hire a demographer to help set up equitable […]

Oxnard Council railroading district voting?

Oxnard Council railroading district voting?By George Miller The so-called California Voting Rights Act has been used to force municipalities to split up into voting districts to help ensure what some claim is fairer representation. The theory is that disenfranchised minorities would really prefer to elect other disenfranchised minorities, not the most qualified, competent candidates. That is being questioned. This […]

DISTRICT-BASED ELECTIONS


George Miller is Publisher/Co-Founder of CitizensJournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant residing in Oxnard.


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One Response to Does Oxnard press release misrepresent Council vote on district voting?

  1. Eileen Tracy November 30, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Yet another power-grab by the city manager’s office.

    Reply

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