Highland Caves In To Pressure To Go To Ward System Following Lawsuit

(July 30)  As was threatened, a lawsuit has been filed against the city of Highland based on claims that the city’s at large city council representation is prejudicial to Hispanic voters.
Lisa Garrett, who claims Latino lineage, maintainst that the city’s Hispanic population is not properly represented in that 48 percent of the city’s residents have Hispanic ancestors but the city has never had a Hispanic council member.
Garrett is represented by the Lancaster-based R. Rex Parris Law Firm, Malibu-based Shenkman and Hughes and Milton C. Grimes of Los Angeles.
In the suit, filed on July 18, it is alleged that the city is violating the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 by continuing to hold at-large electons and not switching to a ward system whereby minority voters stand a greater prospect of electing one of their own ranks to office.
Previously, city officials had sought to stave off the suit by placating ward system advocates. At the council’s last meeting in June, councilwoman Jody Scott and John Timmer endorsed putting the measure on the ballot after a threat that the type of lawsuit actuated on July 18 might be filed against the city. While all members of the council had made statements saying they are satisfied with the current at large election process, Scott and Timmer expressed concerns that not considering the creation of a ward system might leave the city vulnerable to a civil rights lawsuit citing the Voting Rights Act.
In response to the previous threats, the city council directed Highland City Attorney Craig Steele to draft documents that would, if enacted by the council, place a measure on the ballot in November to ask voters whether they would rather elect city council members by district. He also provided two proposed maps delineating possible city wards.
At the June meeting, however, Mayor Sam Racadio and councilman Larry McCallon said going to the expense of an election over the issue was ill-advised, since voters might reject the ward concept, in which case those intent on suing the city could proceed anyway, perhaps with further causes of action, since it could be demonstrated the city residents themselves had acted in precluding the creation of the ward system.
Council member Penny Lilburn was absent and the vote deadlocked 2-2. Thus, no action was taken.
After the suit was filed, the city, which will need to lodge its request for the ballot measure with the county registrar of voters by August 9 for it to be placed on the ballot this year, scheduled a special meeting for July 24. At that meeting, with Lilburn present, the council voted unanimously to schedule a vote on the ward proposal for the November election.
Depending on the outcome of that election, the lawsuit could be rendered moot. Accordingly, the next substantive hearing on the case, which is being heard in San Bernardino Superior Court in Division 37, is scheduled for January 14, 2015, a trial setting conference.

Leave a Reply