Anaheim City Manager Paul Emery has denied a request by Mayor Tom Tait to put the question of whether to restore the popular council districts map, known as the “people’s map,” on Tuesday’s city council meeting agenda.
Tait and his allies have called the denial, which was based on a parliamentary technicality, an “outrageous” attempt to shut down debate on the most important civil rights issue facing the city in at least a generation.
“It’s anti-democratic. It’s anti-transparent. It’s outrageous, extremely disturbing that the mayor can’t put an item on the agenda, especially one such as this — the major civil rights issue in a generation in our city,” Tait said during an interview late last week.
The controversy can be traced back to the Dec. 15th council meeting, when Tait was forced to adjourn the meeting early after loud protests by residents and activists who were angry over the council majority’s decision to scrap the previously adopted “people’s map.”
And that controversial decision came after the council majority had adopted the map, but excluded the map’s only Latino majority district from the 2016 general election. In response to outrage from activists over the excluded district, the council majority scrapped the map and restarted the process to pick a new map.
The machinations are part of the now stalled process to transition the city from its current at-large council election system to electing council members by district. Latino activists had sued the city over the at-large system, alleging that it prevented Latino residents from electing their candidates of choice and therefore violated the California Voting Rights Act.
During the December meeting, Tait had asked to consider restoring the previous map. But city policy requires Tait to make such requests during the council comments portion of the meeting, according to a city spokesman.
However, the early adjournment meant that the meeting didn’t reach the second and final council comments agenda item. And the city attorney never corrected the mayor on the timing of his request, leaving most observers with the impression that restoring the “people’s map” would be on the next meeting agenda.
Nonetheless, before Tait adjourned the meeting, Houston indicated that his request would be honored.
“We’d have to notice both of those actions. At least at this point, that’s what we have on the table for Jan. 12,” Houston had said in reference to Tait’s ask and a request from Councilman Jordan Brandman to hold the first hearing to pick a new map.
But that’s not how it turned out. Brandman’s request is on Tuesday’s meeting agenda, but Tait’s is not, which is why Tait is crying foul. Brandman had made his request during the first council comments portion of the meeting.
“If there’s any problem procedurally, which there isn’t, that should have been brought up at the time,” Tait said.
Terry Francke, Voice of OC’s public records consultant and expert on the state’s open meetings law known as the Ralph M. Brown Act, agreed with the staff’s interpretation of the city policy and state law.
The Brown Act allows council members to agendize meeting items, but only subject to procedures adopted by the city, Francke said. And the city policy in this case sets out that council members are to request agenda items during the council comments portion of the meeting.
“I can understand why the staff believes that requesting scheduling a future agenda item has to occur during the period for members’ comments,” Francke said.
Still, the city attorney should have made clear at the time what was required of the mayor to place an item on the next meeting’s agenda, Francke said. That way the mayor and the public aren’t blindsided.
“If a significant rule that contradicts a member’s preferences is going to be imposed, it should be brought up at the time,” Francke said.
Also, Emery can place such an item on the agenda with or without the mayor’s action during the meeting, especially if the public demands for the item to be discussed, Francke confirmed.
In a statement sent to Voice of OC, city spokesman Mike Lyster wrote that, the way the agenda is written, the council could adopt any map, including “the people’s map.”
“What we have done is draft the districting agenda item for Tuesday’s meeting in a way that any map can be brought up, discussed and directed by council for further consideration, as early as Jan. 26,” Lyster wrote.
However, if Tait’s request had been honored, the map could have been adopted this week.
Tait’s ally Dr. Jose Moreno, president of the Latino group Los Amigos of Orange County and a likely council candidate from the Latino-majority district in the “people’s map,” also called the move “outrageous.” And, in a veiled reference to Disneyland, Moreno wondered aloud about who was working behind-the-scenes to keep the map off the council agenda.
“What powerful interests in the city of Anaheim don’t want to see the people’s map see the light of day?” Moreno said.
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