First public hearing on by-district voting, representation at tonight's Elk Grove City Council meeting

At tonight's meeting of the Elk Grove City Council, a public hearing will be held to consider how the city should switch from at-large to by-district elections.  

At their August 28 meeting, the city council reluctantly adopted a resolution to begin the process of changing to the by-district system. The reluctance came from Vice Mayor Pat Hume and councilmembers Steve Detrick, Stephanie Nguyen and Darren Suen who have consistently opposed the changing how they are elected.

The city's current at-large system, which violates the California Voters Rights Act of 2002 in other municipalities, allows a council member to reside in one geographic area but elected on a citywide basis. In by-district, representatives are elected by voters in a defined district where a candidate must live. 

Many Elk Grove residents have urged the city council to switch with resistance only broken after the city was threatened with a potentially costly CVRA lawsuit from the legal firm of Shenkman and Hughes and their client, the  Southwest Voter Registration Education Project. The Shenkman firm has collected millions of dollars of recovered legal fees from several municipalities who litigated and lost in their defense of at-large systems.

Although most people speaking on the matter have been in support of changing to a by-district system, a few have voiced support for the four councilmembers. One such supporter is Elk Grove resident Randy Bekker.

"If we end up like Sacramento [by-district voting] someday, we could have a by-district where Mr. Hume's district could be left, as Mr. Carr's district has been left in Meadowview," Bekker said during comments at the April 18, 2018 city council meeting. "Old Elk Grove will become skid row; that's something we need to think about because it will happen" (watch the video here).

One of the consistent voices advocating for by-district has been Elk Grove resident Amar Shergill who has argued not only about the civil rights aspects but has said it could be costly for taxpayers if the city does not voluntarily switch voting systems.

“Our coalition has been advocating for over a year to get the city to stop violating the civil rights of Elk Grove voters," Shergill said. "Mayor Ly has been supportive, but the councilmembers have been more interested in protecting their seats than doing what’s right for the people of Elk Grove.  

The current at-large system generally is viewed as favorable to incumbents who have access to more campaign contributions needed to conduct a citywide election. The four councilmembers opposing the change have consistently said the current systems makes them responsive to constituents throughout the city, although testimony introduced during public comment has frequently shown this not to be the case, particularly with Hume (watch the video here).  

Tonight's meeting is the first of four to be held regarding the switch. Shergill reminded residents that public participation in the process is crucial.

"It is not over just because hearings are being held," Shergill noted. "People need to show up and tell the Council to make this change immediately so that women and people of color have a fair playing field.”

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

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