Under threat of voters rights lawsuit, by-district voting, representation to be considered by Elk Grove City Council



In an apparent move to thwart a possible costly civil rights lawsuit, the Elk Grove City Council will consider voluntarily changing how council members are elected at their Wednesday, August 28 meeting.

According to a staff report for the agenda item, the city council will consider adopting a resolution to start the transition to a by-district form of governance. If the resolution is adopted, the city council will hold public meetings on the matter.

In the current by-district system, with the exception of the mayor, council members live in a defined district but are elected on a city-wide basis which is legally considered an at-large system. In by-district, representatives reside in a specific district and are elected exclusively by residents in the district.   

With the exception of Mayor Steve Ly, the four council members - Steve Detrick, Pat Hume, Stephanie Nguyen, and Darren Suen - have steadfastly opposed switching to by-district. Notwithstanding their opposition, the city council is apparently reconsidering their position under threat of a California Voting Rights Act of 2001 lawsuit.

On July 15 the city received a letter dated July 10 from the law firm of Shenkman & Hughes threatening a CVRA lawsuit if the city does not make the change. Although several cities and governmental entities locally and statewide have voluntarily switched, Shenkman and Hughes have successfully sued others that cost taxpayers settlements of up to $12 million. 

In the letter written by Kevin Shenkman, it is argued that Elk Grove's at-large system "results in racially polarized voting and vote dilution detrimental to the Latino voting community in Elk Grove." Since incorporation in 2000, Sophia Scherman has been the only Latino and only one of two females elected to the city council. 

The staff report prepared by city manager Jason Behrmann, city clerk Jason Lindgren, and city attorney Jonathan Hobbs recommends that the "City Council pass the proposed resolution of intent to transition to a by-district election method for the four City Councilmember positions."

The report pushes back on Shenkman's assertion that the at-large system has been detrimental to Latinos. The report states "To date, neither racially polarized voting, vote dilution, nor a violation of the CVRA has been established detrimental to Latinos or any other racial minority class within the City. However, passing the resolution of intent will stay the filing of expensive litigation for the City, and it will provide the opportunity for public hearings and outreach toward transitioning to a by-district election approach. Ultimately, the decision to transition to a by-district election method and the approval of any new district maps will be for the City Council to make following the public hearing process."

The city must respond to Shenkman & Hughes by August 29 otherwise litigation is expected to be filed. 

Copyright by Elk Grove News © 2019. All right reserved.



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2 comments

D.J. Blutarsky said...

Aww shucks:

The People of Elk Grove 1- Kronick Moskovitz Tiedemann & Girard - 0

Eye on Elk Grove said...

While Elk Grove City Attorney Jonathan Hobbs is smart enough to see the writing on the wall that a lawsuit would have the potential to put the city of Elk Grove in dire financial straits; given all of the other lawsuits, no money to fix our deteriorating roads, and cost overruns – see aquatics center. I venture to guess that Hobbs knows that he would lose this battle and much more.

Make no mistake about it, if a lawsuit were to be filed, given Kevin Shenkman’s record of winning, both the outright lawsuits and appeals, the city of Elk Grove would lose, pay tens of millions in legal fees.

With a loss, the city of Elk Grove would also be required to reimburse the plaintiffs for their legal fees and Hobbs would take the fall. When has the Elk Grove City Council ever taken responsibility for their actions? Staff have always been the fall guys and gals and the result is a loss of their jobs.

However, Hobbs was also smart enough to try and put into place stall tactics to drag out the by-district change for as long as possible to benefit at least one of his bosses, namely Darren Suen. Please note his words, “intent to transition.”

Why spend $40K for a demographer? Part of the stall tactics? How long would this consultant take to bring forth a report the city already has.

The city of Elk Grove, during the recent diversity audit, already put forth the city’s diversity population statistics. What has changed in the last few months?

I also believe that Hobbs has more than met his match in Shenkman. I have no doubt Shenkman has a “checkmate” move to counter any stall tactics by the city of Elk Grove.

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