Council majority overturns previous decision to spend $50K on voter education

April 26, 2002
Santa Paula City Council

A lone bid of over $75,000 for consulting services prompted a City Council decision to withdraw financial support for a voter education effort to address the districting. Vice Mayor Laura Flores Espinosa, a supporter of the effort, was absent from the meeting.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesA lone bid of over $75,000 for consulting services prompted a City Council decision to withdraw financial support for a voter education effort to address the districting. Vice Mayor Laura Flores Espinosa, a supporter of the effort, was absent from the meeting.The council made the decision at the April 15 meeting.In August, the council agreed to let voters decide whether or not keep the city’s system of at-large voting or to switch to district representation as part of the settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The DOJ filed the lawsuit in April 2000, alleging that the city’s at-large voting system violated the Voting Rights Act and prevented Latinos from fair representation on the City Council.At the August meeting the council also agreed with Espinosa’s suggestion to spend $50,000 for a multi-pronged effort of educational workshops on the importance of voting and districting, its pros and cons as well as to launch a non-partisan registration drive. At a later meeting the council - on a split vote - approved the funding allocation.City Clerk Steven Salas told the council at the April 15 meeting that although he had solicited bids from four consultants, only one was returned quoting a price of $75,316. He suggested that the issue be delayed until a later meeting for a consultant presentation.“I still have a feeling of being against it; I was against it when it first came up,” said Councilman Rick Cook.“There’s no way $75,000 should be spent,” and having a presentation from the consultant would be a “waste of time for them to come back and talk to me,” said Mayor Ray Luna.Luna said he believed a community effort would be both effective and appropriate.“I was really taken aback,” by the quoted cost for the consultant, said Councilman John Procter.
Salas said he had discussed fees with the consultant, and a presentation would further address costs that would be eliminated, such as district boundaries, already decided by the council.“The idea I saw in this was an educational effort of pros and cons of districting,” said Procter, who questioned if the city could reverse itself on the decision already made to spend $50,000 on the effort.After further discussion, Cook made the motion that “this be dropped and never come back. . .it’s a waste of city money.”“I’m reconsidering my vote on this, $50,000 is a lot of money,” said Luna.Johnson said that “good intentions of everyone, even a consultant can go awry,” and it would be hard to conduct such workshops without bias. Subsequently, “I don’t think we should be any part,” of such voter education.Cook said the city could assist volunteers by providing the Community Center and Luna suggested “some kind of specific plan” be prepared by staff for volunteers. His motion died on a split 2-2 vote.Procter said the city’s attorney had shown great confidence that the DOJ lawsuit would be settled without caveats; when it wasn’t, council approval for voter education financial support represented “an insurance policy to show the city is interested in the citizens knowing the options. . .”“In my opinion the DOJ mandated no one in any way to pay for an outreach program; they mandated that the [districting] issue be placed in front of the voters,” for a decision, said Johnson. “We’ve done what the DOJ asked for and this is something beyond that. . .”The council split 3-1 with Procter casting the lone nay vote to drop the and not revisit the issue.



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