Latino group seeks changes to City Council elections
by Nick Rappley | Patterson Irrigator
Mar 14, 2013 | 2030 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A group of Latino leaders in Stanislaus County is threatening suit against the city of Patterson unless it changes how it elects City Council members because they believe the city is violating state and federal civil rights laws.

The Latino Community Roundtable, a group of elected and appointed officials, sent a letter to the Patterson City Council on Feb. 6 demanding that council members be elected to represent specific districts within the city, replacing the at-large election process.

Maggie Mejia, the roundtable’s president, wrote that at-large elections violate the federal 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 2001 California Voting Rights Act.

“If Patterson does not immediately adopt district elections, we will file a lawsuit to seek judicial relief on behalf of Patterson residents,” Mejia wrote. “We will ask the court to impose district elections immediately, to draw the new district maps and to enjoin any attempts by Patterson City Council to perpetuate the current election scheme.”

Modesto lost a challenge to a lawsuit making similar claims in 2007 and paid a $3 million settlement to a San Francisco law firm, according to Doug White, Patterson’s deputy city attorney.

White said this week that no one who has challenged this type of lawsuit has been successful, and monetary damages have been large.

But Mejia said the group is looking for fair representation for all ethnic groups in the city, not money.

Rod Butler, Patterson’s city manager, said the council is doing what it can to cooperate.

“(The City Council) really doesn’t want to rush into this,” Butler said. “They are open to investigating the idea but don’t want to be threatened or pushed into a corner.”

He said the council is waiting for extensive information from White and his law firm that should explain what the city faces.

Mayor Luis Molina and Councilman Dominic Farinha declined to comment this week and referred questions to Butler.

Council members Sheree Lustgarten, Deborah Novelli and Larry Buehner did not return calls.

Mejia said Monday, March 11, that her group had not heard anything yet from Patterson officials.

She said the roundtable had received positive responses from other cities, including Turlock and Ceres, but had not heard from Oakdale, Riverbank or Hughson.

“Right now, we believe no news is good news,” said Mejia, who believes the cities are looking into the matter. “It was just a matter of time, and the time is now.”

The Patterson Joint Unified School District, which received a letter from the roundtable in January, recently decided to institute district elections for its seven trustees.

Contact Nick Rappley at 892-6187, ext. 31, or nick@pattersonirrigator.com.

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