About District Elections
The way elections are conducted in Martinez could soon be changing. A group of concerned Martinez citizens, Reform Martinez- District Elections Now, has presented both the City Council and the Martinez Unified School District with correspondence through legal counsel requesting that the current “At large” Elections be replaced by a more responsive and representative “District” means of choosing council and board members.
Community members are requesting that that each local government agency provide the leadership which is in the greater good for the community by agreeing to develop by-district voting systems and abandon current at-large system election process. The residents of Martinez now have a unique opportunity presented before them to create a governance that is more reflective of the community diversity and neighbors needs which would result in better citywide public policy. The City and School District must respond to Shenkman & Hughes Law Firm within 45 days and by December 7, 2017.
Martinez has long seen the need for districts, most obviously for geographical and campaign finance reasons. Introducing district elections will create one-winner-per-district election which will foster each of the council members to represent a neighborhood of diverse residents with opposing views and interests. In addition, districting creates a stronger personally accountable representation which would benefit the residents of Martinez. Voters would be represented by a candidate that shares their outlook. In addition, each citizen will have a strong incentive to scrutinize candidates, to vote, and then hold their representative accountable for his or her actions. Citywide policy making would be more thoughtfully created because it will have a strong incentive to reach constructive agreements with opponents. Most importantly, constituents receive power proportional to its numbers and Councils and boards will likely deliberate longer and harder. District elected Council members are likely to be less divisive than those elected by at-large elections.
The advocates for districting have proposed a 5-district plan for the City of Martinez. Consequently, this would change the current at-large election and create a system of a rotating Mayor elected by the City Council. This had previously been the way the Mayor was chosen until the 1970’s. The at-large change resulted in the City only having two Mayors serving since 1980. Having only had 2 mayors in the last 37 years has left many demanding for new Mayoral leadership. Due to the poor record of mayoral representation in Martinez, Reform Martinez – District Elections Now is also proposing a rotating Mayor in this district elections plan.
At the June 15, 2016 City Council meeting, a rotating Mayor system was supported by Councilmember Lara Delaney, “It strikes me that some of the comments that have been made about putting term limits (on commissioners) could well apply to some of the Council members and perhaps the Mayor as well. I think it speaks for the need for a rotational Mayor to be considered in the City of Martinez.” The context of the conversation was about long-serving public servants, one of those is Delaney herself.
Historically, the City Council in the last 2 decades has resulted in 80% of its council members serving beyond 2-3 terms and has only experienced new leadership on the council in the last two elections cycles due to candidates not seeking reelection. Former Council Michael Mensini served 28 years up until 2014 now Mayor Rob Schroeder and Mark Ross who have been serving nearly 22 years -- since 1996.
This community group has cited several reasons for the need to change. One overarching argument is the over concentration and over representation of current council members 4 out of 5 currently living within downtown corridor and only within 600 feet of each other. Because of this consolidation of current representation, this leaves the balance of the Citizens of Martinez with no neighborhood representation. District elections would correct the inequality of geographic representation.
The Cities economic development has suffered due to the lack of leadership and representation of geographic area of our community beyond the downtown which only represents 5% of the City’s revenue. In addition, Public Safety concern beyond the downtown corridor have been low priority for current leadership in supporting our public safety personnel with the necessary resources to address problematic geographic areas of Martinez. Currently, Martinez is only operating with two fire stations due to County closures. However, local leadership has been unresponsive to citizen demands to advocate for the reopening of Station 12, while placing Martinez resident’s life’s at- risk.
At the school board level, the community has also experienced inequity and disparate representation which resulted in a school board member recently resigning due to her inability to properly advocate for all children in the neighborhoods that make up the diversity of Martinez.
This will all change with district elections. All council members would be running in the districts where they live, independent of when they were last elected. A district election of this nature could provide the public with an opportunity not only to obtain greater representation in their neighborhoods, resulting in greater control of our children’s education.
District elections will create an opportunity to provide new leadership with innovative ideas and new perspectives on solving some of the City’s challenges. Martinez is a more diverse community, than it was in 1970, and District elections will insure all the citizens of Martinez with true representation. Having district elections are centered around equitability, not special interests.
The California Elections Code Sec. 21601 states that in creating districts a council may consider in the following factors: “(a) topography, (b) geography, (c) cohesiveness, contiguity, integrity, and compactness of a territory, and (d) community interests of the districts.” The group proposing change states that the current concentration of 4 council members living in a sole neighborhood fails to stand up to 3 of the 4 the tests: “geography,” “compactness of a territory,” and “community of interests of the districts.”
Should either the council or the board choose not to agree to produce a district plan, the law allows the complainant to take judiciary action. So far, no city or school board has successfully fought off redistricting in court. In this process, the institutions (funded by our taxes), would be liable for their own legal fees as well as those of the complainant, should they prevail. Legal representation for Reform Martinez-District Elections Now, is on a contingency basis, which would not place a burden on the group, and thus not prevent them from moving ahead with legal action should the city and board not comply.
Reform Martinez – District Elections Now asks the Citizens of Martinez to contact their Council members and Martinez Unified School District Board members and make their voice heard about supporting fair an equal representation in Martinez with District Elections including rotating mayor.
Other Cities with District Elections
This is a partial list.
Martinez Citizens for District Elections