First of five public hearings re: district elections scheduled for Tuesday, January 9

By Ed Martin, Editor
Lemoore Councilmember Eddie Neal
Lemoore Councilmember Eddie Neal

Lemoore’s residents will get their first chance to voice an opinion regarding the city’s move toward voting districts. The Lemoore City Council will hold the first of five public hearings on the matter Tuesday, Jan. 9.

The meeting, scheduled for Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., is open to the public and will be streamed live on the City of Lemoore’s Facebook page.

City of Lemoore Facebook Page

Since Lemoore’s incorporation in 1900, the city’s voters have elected their city councilmembers on an at-large basis. At a special meeting held in late December, councilmembers voted to begin the process of moving to districts, a process that needs to be completed in 90 days.

Tentative Schedule for Future Public Hearings:

  • January 16, 2018, to discuss composition of districts
  • February 6, 2018, public meeting draft maps
  • February 20, 2018, public meeting draft maps
  • March 6, 2018, public meeting second reading of ordinance, approval or denial

A district-based election system will divide the city into separate districts, each governed by one councilmember who resides in an area. The electors within the district would vote for their councilmember.

Lemoore Councilmember Dave Brown
Lemoore Councilmember Dave Brown

The City must change the way council members are elected or face a lawsuit that could get expensive. At stake would be the city’s violation of the 2002 California Voting Rights Act. Legal experts contend Lemoore’s at-large system “dilutes the ability of Latinos (a protected class) to elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of the city’s elections."

Many cities have spent millions of dollars fighting lawsuits and lost. “Not one city has prevailed in a lawsuit,” said Mayor Ray Madrigal citing the City of Palmdale, which spent $4.5 million to keep its at-large system – and then lost. “It would be foolhardy to keep fighting this … next November we’re going to have to run in districts. It’s what we’re up against.”

Other cities have faced similar challenges and faced with mounting legal bills have voluntarily shifted to district-based elections.

In most cities that face an impending lawsuit, a municipality is given 45 days to assess its situation, and then if it takes steps to move toward district voting, it has an additional 90 days to act.

Included in the transition period are five public hearings within the 90-day period, giving community members an opportunity to weigh in on the scope of the districts and sequence of elections.

“This gets us into a safe harbor,” said Lemoore City Manager Nathan Olsen. “All tonight does is allow us to move forward.”

The next steps are to get the word out to residents and set up a series of public hearings. The City will also hire a demographer to map out districts, which could get expensive. Olsen told councilmembers he already has someone in mind, narrowing a list of possible demographers to three. The Council ultimately gave him the authority to hire a demographer and get the ball rolling on the public hearings.

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