Ramirez: Fullerton City Council vs. Public Trust

I was invited by a friend to attend the May 17th Fullerton City Council meeting, as the Council was scheduled to take action on the issue of voting districts and the selection of a map to be placed on the November 2016 ballot.  As an observer of the meeting, I was impressed by the high number of attendees.  It was evident that the cited issue had drawn a significant number of community folks after Mayor Fitzgerald had asked how many were interested in making public comments; over twenty-five attendees raised their hands.

Based on the public comments, out of various proposed maps, two were advocated by the presenters for Council approval; Map 2B and Map # 8.  Quite candidly, the majority of the presenters were very well prepared and articulated their position with sound rationale.

However, a key difference is that one of the maps was community driven and advocates for Map 2B had exercised a seven-month long inclusive process.    On the other hand, based on folks who advocated for Map # 8, it was very clear that this map was business driven. Additionally, the construction of this map can be viewed as exclusive in nature based on the fact that it was recently written and not part of the directed public process.

It is important to note the importance of the public process given the magnitude and the historical significance of the Voting Rights Act of 2001, which is the driving force for the establishment of voting districts.  One of the presenters, Mr. Jonathan Paik, gave an excellent presentation regarding the seven-month long public process.  His detailed comments made it very clear that the process was very inclusive and all had been done to be compliant.  In the final analysis, those who participated in this public process supported Map 2B and encouraged the Council to take appropriate action and approve Map 2B.  The folks who advocated for Map # 8 made it very clear that the construction of this map was basically an “11th hour” product.  Given this clarification, one can surmise that the business owners did not subscribe nor practice a public process.  Hence, the exclusive process prevented the public at large to study and review the merits of the proposed map.

One further observation is that this issue was on the May 17, 2016 agenda, “Public Elections Mapping Process – Voting Districts Formations,” as an action item.  The language read, “Final public hearing to review community input on the City Council voting district elections mapping process, discussion of proposed district maps and selection of map to place before the voters in November election.

Recommendations by the City Clerk’s Office:

  1. Receive presentation and recommendations regarding voting district maps.
  2. Hold fourth and final public hearing to receive public input on district map.
  3. Discuss voting district formation and close public hearing.
  4. Per terms of the Settlement Agreement, select map to include on the November

2016 ballot measure asking voters to decide whether to approve voting district elections as defined by the selected map.”

Based on the language applied in the agenda item above, it is very clear that the majority of those in attendance expected the Council to take action.  Unfortunately, the Council’s decision not to take action has seriously jeopardized a most critical relationship with the community they had taken an oath to serve; public trust.  Council members may eloquently rationalized their decision not to take action.  However, even the Nicholas Jr. High students, who were in attendance at the initial part of the meeting to present their social enterprise business projects, would have been shocked by the Council’s inaction.  Fortunately, they left the meeting after their respective presentation and did not witness a travesty and breach of public trust.

My assessment of the cited observations is that the premise for the Voting Rights Act of 2001 was well demonstrated by what did not happen.  One can only assume that the Council’s inaction was prompted by the need to be “fair’ to the downtown business owners.  However, it was very evident that those who did everything right, followed the public process and were inclusive in all aspects, were treated unfairly.  May 17, 2016 will be viewed by many Fullerton community residents as a “Day of Shame.”

Richard M. Ramirez, Ed.D. Dean, Emeritus, Fullerton College  Dr.Richard.Ramirez@att.net

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org