With Lawsuit Looming Civil Rights Groups Urge Changes To Protect Voting Rights, Elk Grove City Council Unmoved

Elk Grove resident Andres Ramos urging City Council Members to adopt a by-district form of representation
in the city to assure voting rights compliance. |   

March 15, 2018 | 

Several individuals representing a host of civil rights groups appeared before the Elk Grove City Council urging them to move to protect voters rights.

The comments came during the public comment section of the Wednesday, March 14 Elk Grove City Council meeting. Their comments were made following the disclosure of a letter from a prominent civil rights attorney asking the city to change how council members are elected.

The February 16, 2018, letter, from Malibu-California based attorney Kevin Shenkman, asked the city to change to a by-district form of election from the current from-district system. In a by-district system, representatives are elected only by voters in a defined geographic area while from-district, also called at-large representation, representatives are from a specified district and elected by the entire body of voters.

Shenkman and civil rights groups contend that from-district voting acts as violation of the  California Voter Rights Act (CVRA) of 2001. Shenkman sent the letter on behalf of the Southwest Voter Education Project, and the correspondence specifies that the current system is unfair to Latino voters. 

Among the group represented at the meeting were the ACLU, NAACP, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and the American Sikh Public Affairs Association.  

Speaking on behalf of the ACLU was Dennessa Atiles who said that for over 40 years the ACLU has held that from-district voting is a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

"By-district elections are preferable to at-large elections because they increase opportunity for access to the ballot," she said. "More candidates can articulate points of view otherwise absent from campaigns and in the subsequent deliberation of a legislative body."

Noting that Shenkman had successfully sued the city of Palmdale, California, Amar Shergill of the American Sikh Political Action Committee urged the council to settle the matter before engaging in expensive litigation. In the letter, Shenkman advised Elk Grove that unless the city moved on the subject by April 5, 2018, he would file a lawsuit on behalf of his client.

"This is a slam-dunk of a loser lawsuit for the city of Elk Grove," Shergill said. "We should learn the lessons from other cities that made the horrible mistake of trying to defend the lawsuit. They have paid millions of dollars of legal fees, followed by millions of dollars of damages to no benefit for their city."  

One of two representatives speaking on behalf of LULAC was Orlando Fuentes. He noted the group's primary focus is on assuring civil rights for Latinos, but whenever Latino rights are advanced, the rights of all move forward as well. 

"We support the by-district model of elections which is deemed to be more fair for everyone concerned," he said. "In order to make a more perfect union, I ask you to support by district elections."

One of the unaffiliated individuals speaking in support of the change was Andres Ramos who gave the city council an elementary school civics lesson and addressed one of the standard arguments used by the city council in maintaining the status quo. In their ongoing defense, four city council members - Steve Detrick, Pat Hume, Stephanie Nguyen, and Darren Suen - have argued that if they switched to a by-district form of representation, as individuals, they could not act in the interest of the entire city.  

"As we know, with other forms of government whether its the board of supervisors, whether it is the Congress, whether it the legislature where they already have by-district elections, you have to balance the dual roles of representing the constituency, but also having the overall focus of when you are in Congress, not just voting for your district, you're voting for the national interest," Ramos said. "It wouldn't be any different here, it would be 'I'm here as neighborhood representative to serve the interest of advancing my neighborhood, but I'm also here to advance the interest of the city as a whole.'"  

Following public comment Mayor Steve Ly said he would be willing to place the matter on a future agenda for discussion and sought consensus from the other four council members. Ly's request was met with dead silence. 

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Eye on Elk Grove said...

“They could not act in the interest of the entire city.” What BS! And the county of Sacramento excuse is getting old. The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors represent different cities within the region, so of course, there will be turf-guarding. Note to the Elk Grove City Council: You represent one city, Elk Grove!

This is about the arrogance of the council members, making it more difficult to unseat them, developers’ interests, and the public be damned.

Case in point: Did you see how Pat Hume ignored the flooding of the resident’s home on Mecca for a year. which by way, is in his district - he couldn't care less. But Hume couldn’t wait to please yet another developer regarding yet another rezone. Check’s in the mail!

D.J. Blutarsky said...

NSA Intercept, 15 March 2018, 1200 GMT

Subject 1, Region Builders: Hey P...redacted..., how’s it going this morning?

Subject 2, City Council: Oh not so good. We got our butts handed to us last night by all these bleeding heart liberals who want to upset the balance of power.

Subject 1, Region Builders: That is not good. I’m telling you, as far as I’m concerned, we got a Code Blue in Elk Grove. You guys better squash this public protest for district elections ASAP! This is not a request, this is an order.

Subject 2, City Council, hang on a sec, let me get D...redacted...on the phone for a conference call. Hey D...this is P….do you have a sec? I’ve got Region Builders on the other line and they’re calling this a Code Blue.

Subject 3, City Council: Good morning guys. I understand, how can I help keep us in power?

Subject 1, Region Builders: Well first thing, you better get your city attorney to stall this out as long as he can. I don’t care how much it costs you guys, because you owe us. I’m bringing in Tom W….to help put down the opposition in carefully worded press interviews and to start attending your meetings so he can tear into each speaker who talks about this district cra*.

Subject 2: What about the Mayor, he’s opposing us?

Subject 1, Region Builders: Ignore the bast***! We’re gonna throw so much money towards D***** S***, his head will spin. There’s not enough pot in Siskiyou County to rescue his campaign.

Subject 3: Thanks boss, I appreciate your support. With me in office, and P** as my wingman, I see a bright future ahead for all of us.

Subject 1, Region Builders: Okay, that’s what I want to hear! I don’t take our Code Blue lightly and neither should you. Now put on a full court press, blitz the media, paint these commie liberals as wackos, and I’m sending Tom over to seal the deal. Good Bye!!

Eye on Elk Grove said...

D.J. This has to be your best comment yet! Tim Russert would be so proud!

Eye on Elk Grove said...

This shows the arrogance of the Elk Grove City Council minus Mayor Steve Ly.

The first ask by the proponents for bi-district voting was to put it up to a vote of the people. Fair enough. Let the voters decide. But it appears we voters aren’t smart enough to decide for ourselves; so when the request was denied, the Council Gang of Four most likely thought that would be the end of it. #DumbConstituents

But ego-driven, self-important Council members Darren Suen, Stephanie Nguyen, Patrick Hume and Steve Detrick are now backed into a corner. Now it is going to be a lawsuit and who is to blame? #WhoseSorryNow

D.J. Blutarsky said...


The cost of the City Attorney position is annually included in the City’s budget. Bringing the position in-house should reduce the reliance on outside counsel and, in turn, should reduce legal expenses to the City an estimated amount of not less than $50,000 per year, and perhaps more.

Excerpt, City Council staff report, 5/11/16

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