Elections

Panel drawing Modesto election map facing decisions

Voting for council members will get a makeover when 2009 rolls around.
Voting for council members will get a makeover when 2009 rolls around. The Modesto Bee

A group of people drawing boundaries for next year's City Council elections is doing its best to keep politics out of its inherently political job.

That task is about to get a lot more difficult.

Modesto's district-drawing commission is about to settle its last questions and recommend a map for next year's council races by the end of this month.

Soon, it will have to choose which three districts will go to election in 2009 and which three will face votes in 2011.

Caught in the middle are residents who want to see change come as quickly as possible and council members who might or might not be able to run for office next year.

Councilmen Brad Hawn and Garrad Marsh term out in 2011. But if their neighborhoods are assigned to districts that go to election in 2009, they could be eligible to run. If either won, he would keep his council seat until 2013.

The city charter limits council members to two consecutive four-year terms, but only if the elected official holds the seat for at least 26 months. Hawn and Marsh would be under that threshold next year.

Councilman Dave Lopez' term lasts through 2011. He wouldn't be affected by term limits until 2015.

None of the council members has weighed in on the possible districts. They don't want to create an appearance of a conflict of interest that could tar the city's political reform.

"I don't think it's appropriate to have a sitting council member have input on how the districts come out," Hawn said. "Whatever happens, happens, and I'm sure I'll be able to deal with it."

Sandra Lucas, who helped write the February ballot measure that called for district elections, said the easiest course would be to ignore the council members when choosing which neighborhoods vote next year.

"I think it's pretty black and white," she said. "You've got six new districts and you assign a number. The three of them either live in the right district or they don't -- end of story."

Members of the district-drawing commission have kept questions about the transition well off their agenda.

"If the challenge comes before us that we have to place the (council members) in respective districts, we'll deal with it. But the first thing is, we have to get an equitable and fair map," said Larry Salinas, the commission's vice chairman.

Doug Johnson, the city's district elections consultant, is preparing a few options for the commission to consider. They include:

  • Randomly assigning numbers to six council districts. Three would go to election next year; if the incumbents don't live in those neighborhoods, they couldn't run for re-election.
  • Matching next year's district races to council members whose terms end in 2009. Janice Keating, Will O'Bryant and Kristin Olsen are up for re-election then.
  • Keating could draw opposition from Hawn and Dave Lopez, who live in her district in every option before the district commission.

    Olsen could be grouped in a Keating district, or in one with Marsh. O'Bryant is in a district by himself in all remaining maps.

  • Holding elections in districts where several candidates live. Incumbents with time remaining on their current terms could serve until 2011 if they lose. They could be assigned a different district to represent until their terms expire.
  • Letting City Clerk Stephanie Lopez designate which districts go to election next year. Lopez said that doing so would conflict with the city charter, which assigns that task to the commission.
  • Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at

    aashton@modbee.com

    or 578-2366.

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