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Ruffalo: Grand Jury directs its gaze on redistricting process

Looking Behind the Scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
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By now, most of the gentle readers know we’re in the midst of the mandated redistricting effort, an exercise which takes place every 10 years. The process, which is driven by the U.S. Census figures, ensures that each congressional and legislative district is equal in population with each other. California, which previously was redistricted in a way that whichever political party was in power wanted, supposedly will have a fairer process because of a recently mandated commission which has equal parts of Republicans and Democrats, along with some independents. That commission now is preparing to draw new boundaries for congressional, state senatorial and assembly districts, but many of us forget that supervisorial districts get their new chalk marks with the way each county wants them to be done. In Placer County, the process was handed to the Community Development Resource Agency (CDRA), which has until August to come up with a final proposal, which then goes to the Board of Supervisors for its blessing. However, one potential problem here is that CDRA is run by Michael Johnson, who takes his marching orders from county executive officer Tom Miller, both of whom owe their jobs to the Board of Supervisors. Should CDRA miss its deadline, then the matter is dumped onto a committee made up of the county clerk, district attorney and county auditor. But what if CDRA makes its deadline? Anything wrong with that? Well, what happens if a seated supervisor up for reelection finds his or her residence no longer remains within the incumbent district because of the new boundary lines? And that leads to a second pertinent question of what happens if the new and former supervisors are both up for re-election in 2012? Wouldn’t or shouldn’t one wonder if those affected supervisors would put pressure on Miller and CDRA to place the new lines in such a way as to ensure that current residences remain in their current district, and that two seated supervisors do not wind up having to run against each other? No please don’t take this an an indictment. The problem was placed here solely for discussion. On the other hand, I have an excellent source which tells me the Placer County Grand Jury is already wondering whether a county department which operates at the behest of the Board of Supervisors is the proper vehicle to drive redistricting. In fact, that same source insists that the Grand Jury is already gathering documentation and has gone so far as to meet with county elections chief Jim McCauley. “I know the Grand Jury has an interest in the county redistricting process, but I will not comment on whether I’ve been asked to testify,” McCauley told me. No offense, Jim, but I already knew the Grand Jury had an interest, although I readily understand the hesitancy to talk about potential testimony and witnesses. What I do know is that the Grand Jury didn’t care for the redistricting plans already released by CDRA. Those proposals variously moved Jennifer Montgomery’s Fifth District boundaries into a good chunk of the Second while protecting Robert Weygandt’s residence, or into Jim Holmes’ Third District, again while protecting that incumbent’s residence. Another proposal had the Fifth moving into parts of Granite Bay. With such gerrymandering, along with the thoughtful consideration of existing home addresses, any wonder the Grand Jury started asking questions? Let’s face it; Placer County’s local redistricting process is flawed. Having minions who owe their paychecks to the very people who are being regulated doesn’t suggest the perfect system, does it? Then again, I don’t know what is the perfect system. The dilemma here is that every time somebody invents a new mousetrap, the mice keep getting smarter and continue to gorge on cheese. Hopefully, whichever final plan from whichever entity will have carefully considered such parameters as keeping the City of Auburn on one district, and likewise with Roseville, Rocklin, Lincoln and the like. There’s very little reason to have one part of a city in one district and the rest in another. Or, believe it or not, have pieces of Roseville in four different supervisorial districts as one CDRA proposal suggested. Had that happened we could have had the Roseville City Council change hats in mid-meeting and sit as the county’s Board of Supervisors. Granted, there may be nothing wrong with the current process. Still, I’m mighty gratified that the Grand Jury is looking into it nonetheless. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs on Sundays. Contact him at jimruffalo@yahoo.com.