Anaheim Councilwoman Kris Murray has been a voice of reason and sanity on the issue of single-member council districts — which, it should be noted, would limit the representation currently enjoyed by Anaheim voters.
As it stands, every Anaheim voter gets to vote for their Mayor and for all four Councilmembers. Switching to single-member districts would limit each voter to a vote for only the mayor and the one council member elected to serve their geographic area.
Here’s Kris Murray’s op-ed that ran in yesterday’s OC Register:
Anaheim Elections: Residents, Not Special Interests, Will Determine Anaheim’s Governance
Whether you believe Anaheim should be broken into single-member council districts or that residents have the right to elect their entire City Council, the process of determining such a change matters. Both the ACLU and Mayor Tom Tait pushed for swift action to place a ballot initiative in front of Anaheim voters before the community had any opportunity to play a part in the process. As it turns out, if the council had approved the ballot initiative proposed by Mayor Tait last year to divide Anaheim into single-member districts, it would have been a violation of state law.
Page view of the Point/Counterpoint Opinion Section with Council Member Kris Murray. Courtesy of the Orange County Register
In the wake of the City of Bell corruption scandal, state law was changed requiring Charter Cities, like Anaheim, to engage their citizenry in a broad public process before any changes to their charter can be put before the voters. The law (AB1344) became effective on January 1, 2012 and requires extensive public noticing and a minimum of two hearings before the council may consider and approve initiatives changing the city’s charter. None of these steps occurred before Mayor Tait’s ballot initiative was agendized for Council consideration last September.
Today, Anaheim is served by a five member City Council, sworn to represent residents at-large. That means the Council must consider impacts of the budget, city services, and policies from a city-wide perspective and govern in the best interest of the entire population. A move to single-member districts would limit each citizen to a vote for the mayor and the one council member elected to serve their geographic area.
Anaheim is a geographically, ethnically diverse Charter City – the largest in Orange County. During the past two decades, Anaheim voters have repeatedly elected members of diverse ethnic backgrounds to at-large council seats. Anaheim voters have also been responsive to ensuring geographic diversity – in fact, Mayor Tom Tait is the first Mayor in 20 years to live in Anaheim Hills. Anaheim has never been challenged with allegations that the city is in violation of the Federal Voting Rights Act.
The ACLU has sued the City of Anaheim claiming violations of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). The lawsuit alleges that the city’s at-large elections are discriminatory and demands that Anaheim change to single-member council districts. My position has been that hastily moving any plan to the ballot would short-circuit the process the Council is legally bound to uphold. State and federal elections laws are complicated, and if the will of voters is to change the current system, there are a number of legal options available.
For instance, if the city moves to single-member districts, what is the right number? Mayor Tait has proposed six districts while activists have called for eight. How many is best or would achieve the lawsuit’s objective to achieve greater Latino representation on the City Council? What about systems like Newport Beach and Santa Ana, which define district areas but elect their councils at-large? There is no one size fits all approach and we should take the time to get it right before any one approach is placed on the ballot.
Last September, the Council established the Citizens Committee on Elections, to study all legal options for election systems and voter outreach. The recommendations are due in May and just last week, the citizens committee began to work on a framework for its report to the Council. The judge presiding over the lawsuit (Moreno v. Anaheim) recently granted Anaheim’s request for a stay on the proceedings until Council has the opportunity to act on the committee’s recommendations.
The people of Anaheim have the legal, moral and democratic right to be involved in any fundamental changes to how they are governed and how their city council is elected. It is important to continue working with our citizens – despite the demands of the ACLU and special interests – on any recommendations that may come to the ballot.