Lawsuit clouds ability of committee to agree on one compromise map
In the heat of the 2020 election cycle and the pandemic, census data was provided late from the federal government to states and counties. Add to that the fact that there were 10 amendments on the ballot for the Clark County Charter, one of which created a new fifth district for elected county officers. All this created a huge challenge for the five-member Clark County Redistricting Committee.
Adding to the confusion for the average citizen was a similar effort underway to redraw state legislative districts boundaries.
The five-person redistricting committee for the county worked hard, but reached an impasse by the deadline. They were unable to agree on a single map for the new five Clark County Council districts.They had three maps – one supported by two Democrats, one supported by two Republicans, and another created by the redistricting master, in an effort to suggest a compromise.
The Clark County Council has met several times to consider what to do. The councilors were expecting one map and instead were provided three.
On Tuesday, they reached an impasse and voted to send the redistricting back to the redistricting committee. Yet by law, the committee was disbanded at the end of last year.
“I think it’s premature and unproductive for this council to be looking at whether it’s map C, or A2, or B2,” said Councilor Temple Lentz. “Because once again, the redistricting committee process was corrupted from the beginning. Unfortunately, because no single map was submitted from the redistricting master, it went off the rails at that point.”
Lentz suggested they send it back to the disbanded committee to see if they can produce one map, or have the master submit one map to the council.
Councilor Gary Medvigy weighed in. “That’s a great thought,” he said. “I wish we had talked about it with the lawyers ahead of time over the last two months. We never were provided that option of the process with the legal advice we were getting from the PA.”
Earlier in the meeting, the council had gone into executive session. Apparently one of the members of the redistricting committee has filed a lawsuit against the county regarding redistricting. Clearly, that throws another monkey wrench into the issue. How can someone suing the county participate in an effort to now try and reach a compromise map?
Several members of the council mentioned this is the first time this has been done under the current charter form of government. They therefore wanted to get it right.
Councilor Karen Bowerman expressed concerns about timing. Filing to run for several council positions happens this May. People won’t know which district they reside in, and therefore can’t make decisions about running for office with everything up in the air. She preferred the council move forward and hold a public hearing on Feb. 1, so they could move ahead, dealing with the three maps currently on the table.
Medvigy sought to focus on two significant issues. In his opinion, the charter is devoid of good language on how to break a tie. He indicated the council realized early on the redistricting committee was not going to come up with a result. He believes the lack of proper language in the charter to break a tie was a huge problem.
Medvigy’s second concern was that all parties to this problem were getting legal advice from the same lawyer from the prosecuting attorney’s office. This same individual represented the redistricting committee, the county auditor who served as chairman of the committee, and the County Council. “The PA doesn’t exclusively represent the County Council,” Medvigy said. “Nor do they seem to believe they have a role in representing the voters in bringing lawsuits themselves.”
Medvigy decried that there was a possibility that the council could send it back, and that they’d only learned about this option that day.
The council returned to another executive session for additional discussion out of public view. Clearly one important factor was a member of the redistricting committee having filed a lawsuit.
Former redistricting committee member Janet Landesberg.has taken legal action against the county. The legal filing indicates she is a Democrat precinct committee officer for precinct 668. The complaint alleges violations of RCW 42.30, the Clark County Charter 6.6, and violation of Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act.
Her filing points out Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey responded to her request for information by saying this was the first time redistricting had been done under the charter, and therefore there was no precedent. Furthermore, there was minimal guidance in the charter, as he provided reference to the charter’s sections addressing redistricting.
The County Council appointed four members to the committee, Landesberg and Morgan Holmgren as the two Democrat members, and Republicans Cemal Richards and Juan Gamboa. They in turn selected Kimsey to act as chair of the committee, and county GIS staff member Paul Newman to serve as redistricting master.
The master was required to submit one map to the County Council by the end of the year. That one map requires a two-third majority to gain approval from the Redistricting Committee, according to the charter.
Newman initially presented the committee with three maps, based on older population estimates. After voters approved Charter Amendment 3, creating the fifth councilor district, updated maps were presented to the committee, but they did not comply with legal requirements for each district to have “balanced” populations. It was the committee’s job to make adjustments.
In early December, the committee was deadlocked. One map received three votes in favor and two against. They met again and remained deadlocked. Legal counsel stated there’s nothing in the charter that deals with this situation, so state law would govern. But state law doesn’t really reference county charter redistricting committees.
This led the redistricting master to submit the three maps to the County Council for deliberations. The law required the Redistricting Committee to be disbanded by Dec. 31, which occurred.
On Jan. 12, the County Council held a work session, spending considerable time discussing the maps and what the charter does or doesn’t require. Part of that discussion was the fact that three current councilors were placed into the same district by the 15-member Charter Review Committee, which created the map submitted to voters.
The legal filing states: “During the work session, the councilors were aware that the B2 plan required moving 12 precincts compared to 30 precincts in the A2 plan. In addition, the B2 plan moved 14,700 voters while the A2 plan moved 47,000 voters. Both had comparable compactness scores.”
During the January work session the filing alleges: “at least two councilors appeared to want to concentrate on the A-2 map. Both Redistricting Committee Republicans Richards and Jamboa submitted the A2 Landesberg Complaint for Declaratory Relief 9 plan to ‘correct’ the mistake of the voters and of the Charter Review Commission when they did not put Karen Bowerman in the district where she was sitting.”
Landesberg appears to want a judge to further define the county charter. Additionally she wants to reconvene the redistricting committee to complete their work and limit the County Council’s changes to any map by no more than 2 percent — and only if it could muster a two-thirds majority vote to do so.
The councilors voted 3-2 to send this back to the disbanded redistricting committee. Questions were asked if this is legally allowed. Additionally, one councilor wondered how a committee of four can resolve their differences, when one of those four is suing over the process.