PALMDALE – The City Council at its Wednesday meeting approved several changes to its election procedures, including district-based voting, to comply with its recent settlement over violations of the California Voting Rights Act.
Following the terms of the settlement reached with plaintiffs on May 6, the council on Wednesday certified the results of Palmdale’s Nov. 5, 2013 municipal election, conducting a long-awaited oath of office ceremony for Mayor Jim Ledford and Councilman Fred Thompson.
After the brief ceremony, the council approved other election-related measures dictated by the settlement, such as changing the election of the four council members so that residents vote only for the council member of their district – rather than the entire city council. The court settlement divides Palmdale into four districts, using a map that was drafted by the plaintiffs and ordered by the trial court.
However, the office of the mayor will continue to be a citywide, at large vote, according to the agreement.
Council members also approved changing the city’s municipal elections in November to even-numbered years to coincide with either the presidential or gubernatorial election cycles. This means that all current council members will remain in office until the next council is sworn in following the election in November 2016 – when the new district-based electoral system is set to begin for Palmdale.
The council also discussed how to decide which two of the four districts would kick off the new electoral system in 2016 as two-year terms. The decision is necessary if two seats on the council are to be up for election every two years following the 2016 municipal election.
After batting around a few ideas, including tossing a coin, council members agreed the best method would be to simply “draw the district names out of a hat,” believing this to be the “most transparent” way of assigning two- and four-year terms to the newly drawn election districts.
Most importantly, the Palmdale City Council discussed the court-ordered requirement for holding a series of at least three community meetings to inform the public on the upcoming changes to electing its council members.
During comments, Xavier Flores of the League of United Latin American Citizens told the council that four meetings instead of three – one for each new district of the city – should be planned to inform Palmdale residents of the new election system.
Other members of the public emphasized the importance of advertising the upcoming meetings so residents will know enough to attend them.
Palmdale City Attorney Matthew Ditzhazy said the city has 90 days from the June 26 signing of the settlement agreement to arrange the series of community meetings for the public, while noting that the city is also under pressure to “find a new city manager for Palmdale.”
The council eventually agreed to direct staff to set up four meetings, one for each new district, and to get the word out through both English and Spanish-speaking media. The council also noted that the meetings (which will all share similar information about the city’s new election process) should be scheduled on different days and times to “accommodate members of the community.”
Wrapping up the discussion on all election-related items at Wednesday’s meeting, Mayor Ledford told the public, “Again, I just want to say that I may not agree with the court’s decision, but I will comply with the order.”
In a May 7 press statement, Ledford said the lawsuit was never about race or voting rights, stating, “In Palmdale, Hispanic and African-American candidates can and have won citywide at large elections.”
The voting rights lawsuit alleged that Palmdale’s at-large method of electing members to its City Council prevented Latino and African-American residents from electing candidates of their choice. In 2013, after a trial, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Mooney ruled that Palmdale had violated the California Voting Rights Act.
Under the settlement agreement reached in May, Palmdale agreed to pay $4.5 million to the plaintiffs’ attorneys and implement a new voting system, beginning with the November 2016 election.
View the settlement agreement with supporting exhibits at https://theavtimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/jauregui-final-settlement-agreement-with-exhibit.pdf
About the authorJim E. Winburn is freelance reporter covering news of public interest. –
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