What happens when two Orange County supervisors form a committee to redraw voting district borders?

They make the three supervisors who aren’t on the committee very uncomfortable.

Janet Nguyen recently informed her colleagues that in preparation for the upcoming release of new Census data, she has formed a redistricting committee that includes her and Supervisor Bill Campbell. The three other supervisors, according to Nguyen’s plans, would have staffers serve on the committee.

Nguyen’s position is that a redistricting committee is “no different,” she said, than many of the other committees the board forms, which usually include two supervisors. But a committee on redistricting — which is the art of redrawing political boundaries, and possibly political futures — is not just any other committee.

Suffice it to say, the three other supervisors aren’t too keen on the idea and made their feelings clear at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. They said they’re concerned about the perception of the committee and potential legal challenges.

Supervisors John Moorlach and Shawn Nelson said they would rather do it the same way the board did it in 2000. The solution then was to exclude supervisors from sitting on the redistricting committee and instead have them appoint office staffers.

“It seemed pretty intuitive to appoint people that we trust and work with every day,” Nelson said.

Having other supervisors’ staffers negotiating district borders with supervisors from other districts could create an “awkward arrangement,” Moorlach said.

“Who’s going to take on a supervisor? Or disagree?” Moorlach asked.

Nguyen said the redistricting process wasn’t important enough to warrant forming a committee with a different setup, and pointed to an IT committee she formed that included herself and Supervisor Pat Bates.

“I don’t see this issue as being more important than $200 million of the county’s money — in terms of IT,” Nguyen said.

Moorlach countered that IT issues and redistricting are not in the same ballpark.

“Why this committee is so important — and why it should be sort of away from maybe the five of us — is it is so politically charged,” Moorlach said.

Bates brought up potential Brown Act problems with Nguyen’s plan and said she was worried that district borders could be imposed arbitrarily if legal challenges delay the process for too long.

Bates did point out one difference between this committee and Nguyen’s example of past committees — the fact that this committee will include members from staff teams working under the three other supervisors. Bates — much like Moorlach — said she was worried that could “constitute serial meetings.” Bates said she wanted to see the meetings structured as “bullet proof” so that there wouldn’t be Brown Act challenges.

“I will tell you — I don’t want to be on the committee that gets overruled and imposed upon by the judge,” Bates said.

“It might be a safer place for policy advisers to be there rather than elected officials,” Bates continued, “since we all are subject to the accusation that we draw these lines for personal benefit rather than public benefit — even though the rules dictate that we do the latter.”

Campbell sided with Nguyen on her idea of what the committee should look like, as long as it doesn’t mean violating the Brown Act or the Voting Rights Act.

That it is Nguyen and Campbell who agree on the new proposal is interesting. The 2012 election will be the first election year the redistricting takes effect. That year, Nguyen will have to run for re-election and Campbell will be termed out, Moorlach said.

Supervisors directed county counsel Nicholas Chrisos to come up with a report on potential legal challenges to Nguyen’s committee, and they will discuss it again at next Tuesday’s meeting.


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