The City of Exeter holds first of five public hearings on move from at-large to district elections


By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN

EXETER – Last Tuesday, Sept. 5, the Exeter City Council opened a public hearing for residents to weigh in on the process of moving toward district elections. The topic of which has caused some serious consternation among resident James Garcia.

Garcia was named by attorney Kevin Shenkman, with Shenkman and Huges Attorneys, in the lawyer’s letter to the City of Exeter notifying them that he would engage in legal action if the City did not move from at-large elections to district elections. Shenkman used Garcia as an example of a latino candidate who was not elected to the Exeter City Council, and claimed that it is because of the City’s at-large election process which is in violation of the California Voters Rights Act (CVRA).

The letter is nothing new as Shenkman has been sending the same letter to cities all over California which has yielded some sizable settlements. The largest settlement came against the City of Palmdale for $4.7 million. Others include: Modesto $3 million, Highland $1.3 million, Anaheim $1.1 million, Whittier $1 million, Santa Barbara $600,000, Tulare Hospital $500,000, Mercent City $42,000 and Placentia $20,000.

According to a National Demographics Corporation powerpoint presentation, at least 150 school districts, 28 community colleges, 66 plus cities, one county board of supervisors and 8 water and other special districts have switched or are switching.

Exeter city manager Randy Groom said that if the City of Exeter was to take the matter to court it would bankrupt the City. But that did not appease Garcia who spoke at the public hearing, and asserted that he is upset that Shenkman used his failed runs as an illustration but also that the City should fight it.

“I’m Hispanic okay, but I lost fair and square…and if you guys are bowing down to this tyrant, that democrat, I’m sorry I don’t take that easily…nobody out of [the city limits should] tell us what to do. He’s using my name as capital and I don’t like this,” Garcia said.

Groom and city attorney Julia Lews reiterated that the CVRA is constitutional and that several cities have fought and lost in court but still showed some sympathy for the situation the City was in.

“It’s legalized discrimination, I understand that,” Lews said.

Despite Groom and Lews understanding of the position Garcia was in while dealing with the realities of fighting the case in court, Garcia continued to reiterate his point that the City should put up a defense.

“If you guys bow down to him then I’m going to tell people that here that you guys bow down to tyrants. I don’t like this, sorry. It doesn’t fly on my clock,” Garcia stated emphatically.

Garcia went on to say that he was going to get a lawyer and challenge Shenkman on his own for using his name in the letter without permission.

Despite Garcia’s plea for the City to resist the change, the public hearing went on and the Council is in agreement that the City should move to district elections. As a part of the process, the City will hold one more public hearing where residents are invited to provide input regarding the composition of the districts. Two more hearings will be held where the public is invited to provide input over the content of the draft map or maps and the proposed sequence of election. The fifth and final meeting is when the Council will vote on a district map and the sequence of election that would be three districts up for election 2018 and the remaining two districts in 2020.

Another sequence could be four districts and a mayor elected at-large, also known as the strong mayor form of government similar to that of Fresno.

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