Exeter District Ambulance, accused of violating CVRA with illegal use of at-large voting system, issues no response


By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN

EXETER – The City of Exeter is all but finished changing their election system from at-large to districts, but the Exeter District Ambulance’s (EDA) election woes are just beginning.

Early last month on Oct. 3 the Law Offices of Melo and Sarsfield LLP issued a “demand letter” to EDA Clerk of the Board, legal counsel and then manager TJ Fischer. Melo and Sarsfield asserted that the District’s at-large system of voting dilutes the voting power of racial minorities who live in the district. They say as well that the District’s use of at-large voting is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act and the District has the opportunity to voluntarily move from at-large to district elections or be sued.

“At-large voting schemes are unfair to minority voters and suppress minority voter turnout in violation of both state and federal election law,” the letter read. “It should also be noted that since the passage of the CVRA in 2001, no governmental agency sued has ever prevailed where racially polarized voting has been shown.”

This is the latest case Melo and Sarsfield have opened up in regards to district elections. Earlier this fall Melo and Sarsfield issued a similar letter to the City of Porterville. As a result Porterville is also shifting from at-large to district elections voluntarily.

EDA management did not reply as of press time as to whether they plan to comply with Melo and Sarsfield’s letter or litigate the matter in court. And according to Maggie Melo they have heard nothing from the EDA since they received the letter.

“It’s crickets over there,” Melo said. “Based on the way Exeter has ignored us I suspect we may have a fight on our hands.”

For now the District is running out of time under the 45 day litigation hold which will be lifted this week or early next week. Melo and Sarsfield’s letter notes that after the 45 day litigation period the lawsuit will be filed in Tulare County Superior Court which Melo adds, if the EDA continues to do that they do so at their own peril.

“We’ve never been in a situation where we are dealing with a board that is in such turmoil and such shambles…we normally deal with boards that have it together,” Melo said.

As of now the EDA Board of Directors has a minimum of three board members comprised of Adam Phenning, Darinda Kunkel and Tony Miller. Former board members Rob Hubbard, Stacy Walters and Alan Sherer resigned earlier this year around the same time Miller began regularly railroading meetings with aggressive behavior.

Melo said that they will reach out one more time before filing the suit. She said they normally do that as a courtesy to the defendant, but it is not required.

Litigation over district elections can be costly. Just recently the City of Exeter has faced the same case but from a different law office, Shenkman and Hughes Attorney’s. While Exeter did not take the matter to court, Kevin Shenkman’s letter asserted the last time he went to court over the matter was against Palmdale. Shenkman and his plaintiffs prevailed in the case costing the city $4.5 million in addition to court fees.

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