Yesterday, Matt Williams published a guest commentary that outlined what he believed to be several “deficiencies” with the staff report on district elections. Among his complaints was that staff was both “omitting” and “precluding” “the possibility of convening a Davis Citizens Districting Commission similar to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.”
He and city manager Mike Webb went back and forth on this idea. In his update, Matt Williams noted that it was the opinion of Mike Webb who “believes there simply isn’t enough time to select the individual members of a Davis Citizens Districting Commission and complete the CVRA-mandated steps.”
Matt Williams writes: “ Looking strictly at the letter of the law, he has a point. However, I believe there may be a mutually agreeable path for solving that timeline challenge.”
Mr. Williams then cites language from Matt Rexroad’s letter: “If the City adopts the resolution by August 15, 2019, the City has 90 days from that date to adopt an ordinance establishing district-based elections. During that time, a prospective plaintiff is precluded from initiating a CVRA action.”
Mr. Williams opines: “That language appears to leave some discretion (perhaps considerable discretion) with the Rexroad and the prospective plaintiff to effectively (de facto as opposed to de jure) extend the 90-day period. I believe it would be worthwhile to explore such a good faith extension in order to allow sufficient time to conduct the process with a citizens commission rather than with the very people who are seeking reelection … which achieves democratic legitimacy using district lines drawn for the interests of voters, not politicians.”
He adds, “If I were the City, I would be reaching out to Matt Rexroad early on Monday morning to get a sense of how important having districts drawn by the voters is to his clients. If it is important, then he can give the City appropriate legal assurances that the de-jure 90-day window where a prospective plaintiff is precluded from initiating a CVRA action will become a de-facto 180-day window.”
For his part, Mike Webb argues, “There is no grace period to form districting committees as you suggest.”
He argues that the 90-day clock is “strict” and thus believes: “there is no time to solicit interest and convene a new commission body on districting within these very tight time constraints of the CVRA AND do so in a timeframe to make a shift to November 2020 Council elections.”
Matt Williams’ contention is based on the notion that waiving the timeline is a possibility for Matt Rexroad – I have no idea if such a waiver is possible under the law, even if Mr. Rexroad consents to it.
Would Mr. Rexroad consent to such a move? Mr. Williams does not check with him to see if he would.
I do know from speaking with Mr. Rexroad on a number of occasions during this process that his chief concern, by far, is putting this into place by November 2020. The proposed timeline by staff would allow that to occur.
My view of the need for a commission: While Matt Williams’ view is plausible, it remains at least partly speculative. I would have presented a different approach for suggesting additional considerations rather than labeling an adherence to the letter of the law as “major deficiencies.”
For me at least, I would probably prefer for the council to draw the lines as they have set about through a professional demographer – see what the outcome creates, and reconsider the idea of the commission for future re-districting as it becomes necessary.
Mr. Williams suggests that a commission would divorce the process from elected officials with electoral stakes – but probably not by as much as he thinks. Whether the lines are drawn strictly by a professional demographer or a citizen’s commission using a professional demographer, the council ultimately would have the same amount of final say.
Mr. Williams also faults the staff for not including information about the fact that the city is not restricted to considering a five councilmember format.
While Matt Williams has made an interesting point that creating more than five seats would likely create more diversity in districts, and I find intriguing an idea that they theoretically could create a student council district, there are a lot of downsides to going beyond five members.
It would certainly change a lot of dynamics on the council. Three members would be able to caucus under the Brown Act. I saw a seven-member district for the school board when I lived in San Luis Obispo – it was bit more unwieldy and meetings took longer, among other considerations.
While having a seven-member council is probably worthy of some discussion, again I would question whether the omission of that consideration should be considered a major deficiency.
There seem to be four major considerations on the table. These include the criteria for districting, the selection of the mayor, and the timing of election.
I have previously stated my preference to move to November elections. The argument there is that you get a higher turnout and larger percentage of people of color. Given the CVRA is the reason for these proposed changes in the first place, this seems common sense if they can swing it.
Second, you have the issue of how to select the mayor. One possibility is an at-large election, another is a selection process by council, and a third is simply to rotate.
My preference is probably an at-large mayor with the rest of the seats (four districts) divided up. Though the city has pointed out, “In the past, other plaintiffs’ attorneys have made the argument that an at-large mayor still constitutes an at-large system, however.”
A rotation basis is what Woodland does and some of the council noted that is similar to the way that both the school board and board of supervisors selects its presiding officer.
The city has suggested a staggered sequencing of seats: “The Council may decide, for example, that three seats are up for election in 2020 and the two additional are up in 2022. This proposed decision will need to be shared before the third public hearing is held.”
There have been suggestions which have argued that, by doing this, they are acting somewhat unfairly. But on the other hand, when Gloria Partida and Dan Carson were elected, the voters did so expecting them to serve four years. I think grandfathering them into the district election makes most sense, but that will be decided by the council at some point.
Bottom line: while Matt Williams raises additional possibilities here, limiting the questions serves a practical purpose and I would not call these omissions necessarily major deficiencies.
—David M. Greenwald reporting