Wednesday, July 16, 2014
IN MY OPINION (Column)
City of Palmdale Is Under Siege
By FRED THOMPSON
Our city is under siege. A year and a half ago, trial attorneys filed a lawsuit against the city of Palmdale, claiming that elections here are racially biased and prevent minorities from having their voices heard.
Back in December, a judge issued a ruling that sided with the plaintiffs, invalidating the November elections and calling for a special election.
The heart of the issue is the way we run our elections here in Palmdale. We have a four-member City Council and voters in the entire city vote for all four members. This is called having a council “at-large.” In some other cities, the area is broken up into districts, and each district votes for a council member.
The lawsuit claims that Palmdale’s use of at-large council elections prevents minorities from being elected to council and having their voices heard. These activists have filed similar lawsuits around the state. As evidence of racial bias, they show that Palmdale has historically elected only a few minorities to the city council. They want to force Palmdale to adopt a district method of electing city council (and reap millions of dollars in legal fees). This, the plaintiffs argue, will create two majority-Latino districts in Palmdale and achieve parity for the city.
I take great issue with this ruling, for a number of reasons. First, I’m a proud resident of Palmdale, and I love this community. I resent any implication that this community is racist. We sometimes have complicated relationships in this city, but there is not a concerted effort to keep minority groups down.
Secondly, Latinos make up 60 percent of Palmdale and African Americans make up 15 percent. In other words, “minorities” currently make up three quarters of this city. During my days as an educator, I learned to call that a majority. To claim that having an at-large system is biased against “minorities” (who are the majority) seems a bit strange to me. The new system they propose would create two Latino-majority districts in Palmdale. Under the at-large system, all four seats are Latino-majority seats. I’m not sure what problem they are hoping to solve.
Lastly—and I hesitate to mention this—I’m black. Back in November, I became the first African American elected to the City Council in Palmdale. It was quite an honor, and very thrilling, until the court overturned the elections, citing that the method of election in Palmdale is biased against minorities. Yes, the elections last November that resulted in the first African American (me) elected to the City Council were tossed out as being racially biased. I was recently appointed to the council to fill a vacancy.
Despite evidence to the contrary, activists and trial lawyers are using the Voting Rights Act to attack cities with at-large elections around the state and win money through lawsuits, even though there is no evidence that switching from at-large to district elections will make any difference in the outcome. However, plaintiffs who win suits against these cities stand to make lots of money in legal fees, making this a great deal for lawyers.
In the end, it comes down to allowing us to govern ourselves. I firmly believe that the at-large system of voting in Palmdale is simply a better system. It provides better accountability to you, the voter.
You get a voice in selecting each of the council members that represent you, not just one.
An at-large system doesn’t pit one part of the city against another, but encourages us all to work together.
And, if my election proves anything, it doesn’t discriminate against minorities.
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