Public hearings on election districts draw large crowds
Nov 16, 2017 | 1501 views | 0 0 comments | 82 82 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Federal Judge Robert Shelby and "Special Master" Dr. Bernard Grofman were involved in public hearing on November 16 regarding the proposed new boundaries for Commission and School Board districts. More than 120 people attended the hearing in Monticello, with 16 people making public comment. In Bluff, an estimated 150 people were in attendance, with ten people making public comment. After both hearings, members of Judge Shelby’s staff took comment from others. In addition, written comments were accepted and email comments will also be accepted. The original deadline for emailed comments is Friday, November 17, but Judge Shelby said that his staff would accept comments through the weekend. The email address for comments is redistricting@utd.uscourts.gov . Comments should be 500 words or less. Shelby has announced that he intends to accept new voting districts by December 15 and is on an aggressive schedule to complete the work by then. It is the final stages of a lawsuit filed byt he Navajo Nation that accuses San Juan County of unfair election districts. Dr. Grofman, an expert in redistricting, was hired as a “Special Master” to draw the redistricting borders. Grofman has released three preliminary conceptual maps for the three commission districts and two preliminary conceptual maps for the five school districts. Details on the proposals can be foumnd at the San Juan Record website, at sjrnews.com. Shelby outlined his work over the past five years on what he called “a long, hard, complicated case,” and added, “I understand how important these issues are to everyone in the county.” Dr. Grofman, who is a professor at the University of California – Irvine, said that his goal was a “common sense attempt at redistricting.” Grofman said that he made the recommendations without using race as the preponderant motive. He said that his goals are good government and outlined three principles he used in the process, including “drawing lines that reflect where the people are, keeping intact, as much as possible, census population concentration and using common sense regarding the school districts near the schools. The first public comment at the meeting in Monticello was Blanding Mayor-elect Joe B. Lyman, who said he was representing everyone who calls Blanding home, whether or not they lived in city limits. Lyman read a resolution approved by the Blanding City Council which opposes any three-member district that divides the community. Lyman added that not having a hearing in Blanding was unacceptable because the Blanding community – the largest in San Juan County – bears the heaviest impact of the proposed redistricting. Lyman said that the distance from Blanding to Monticello or Bluff, the timing of the hearing in the middle of the work day, and the lack of adequate public notice is not acceptable. He suggested that perhaps a five-member Commission, voted at large, would not create as much division and inequity. “This is not the only option,” said Lyman, referring to the proposals, and added, “It is clearly at large with good government standards.” Lyman closed by expressing the clear and nearly unanimous opposition of the community of Blanding, and the unanimous opposition of elected officials. Commissioner Phil Lyman discussed the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which embodies the concept of one man, one vote. Commissioner Lyman said that the law allows a variance in district population of up to ten percent, which he called a cushion that allows for common sense in districting. Lyman said that the current Commission districts are within the ten percent variance and that the lawsuits are over matters that are not in violation of the law. Lyman said that he feels that Blanding is singled out in the proposed redistricting and rejected suggestions that it is not possible to have a district that includes all of Blanding. “To say it is not possible is a farce,” said Lyman, “we have done it.” Lyman also questioned Shelby’s role in the matter. Judge Shelby was the judge during the trial phase when Lyman was convicted of organizing and participating in the Recapture Canyon protest. “We need an impartial judge in this decision,” said Lyman. After stating that he has seen bugs under a rock, Lyman added, “I have seen the collusion that takes place inside the federal system” and suggested that Judge Shelby should have recused himself on the matter. Susie Philemon, of McCrakken Mesa, said she opposed the plan, stating that the 1984 Consent Decree – which set up the prior districting plan – stated that redistribution is needed only under growth. The prior plan was set up and administered by the U.S. Justice Department Office of Civil Rights. “The Navajo Nation should have sued the Justice Department, not San Juan County,” said Philemon, who added that the redistricting process should be initiated by San Juan County, not by outside people.” Philemon added that misleading statements have been made by Navajo Human Rights officials at recent Chapter meetings and complained about “intimidation by Navajo Nation tribal officials.” Lloyd Nielson addressed his concerns about the listing of the percent of Native American residents in each option and said that the divisions are not equal. Harrison Johnson, of the Aneth Chapter opposes the plan and said, “We don’t like this.” Johnson said the plan creates division and pleaded, “Leave it the way it is. We work together equally.” Johnson added that he feared that “the white folks in San Juan County might think Utah Navajo are suing the county.” He added that “the Navajo Nation and the small group that they run around with” are responsible and said, “All they have is hatred.” Doug Wright, who served for 14 years as the superintendent of the San Juan School District, said that after six years of fighting, “the proposals are back where we started,” with two Anglo-dominated districts, two Native American-dominated districts and one split district with a narrow Native American majority. “This doesn’t really seem to fix the issue that was brought to the court initially,” said Wright. Merri Shumway, who serves as Vice President of the school board, outlined the school district position throughout the process. Shumway encouraged districts that are anchored in the communities that feed the local schools. She added, “It is hard to represent schools that are not in a candidate’s community of interest.” Ron Nielson, the acting superintendent of schools, said that the school system is very aware of the issues. “The community concept and feeder school issues continues to be our main concern.” Howard Randall, who has served as San Juan County Assessor, said that land ownership and taxation should be considered. Randall said that private ownership of land is limited in San Juan County and property taxes provide significant revenue to the county. Randall suggested that because of limited land ownership options on reservation lands, this may become a case of “representation without taxation.” Kay Shumway stated that he returned to his boyhood home in Blanding to help build a college with a focus on Native Americans. The campus has grown into a major branch of Utah State University. Shumway said that education is the way out of poverty and stated that the Native American population of Blanding is an estimated 28 percent of the total. Shumway said he is disappointed that a hearing was not held in Blanding and that the Blanding community would be split under the proposals. Betty Jones spoke in Navajo and said her fanmily had lived in the Bluff area long before white man came. She added, “For a long time, no one from the Navajo Nation has helped us.” Anna Tom asked the judge to “keep it the way it is.” Annie Stone suggested that the tribe doesn’t help the people and that is pathetic.” Stone added, “It is the county that helps the family. The county is doing their job, not the Navajo Tribe.” Terry Whitehat said he had driven from Navajo Mountain to comment on the proposal. Whitehat outlined his frustration in finding employment in other areas of the county and suggested that racial discrimination may be responsiblre. San Juan Record Editor Bill Boyle discussed the unintended consequences of the 1984 Consent Decree and encouraged the judge to consider those issues when making a decision. He suggested that the demise of the two-party system in San Juan County may have been hastened by the consent decree, which resulted in party politics based on racial lines. The other unintended consequence is that San Juan County did not redraw district boundaries in 1990, 2000, and 2010 because they had been set up by the federal government with no instruction on how they should be changed. Alfred Jim, the Teec Nos Pos chapter president, said his chapter has representatives that live in San Juan County and he has obligation to represent them. Jim was chairman of the Utah Navajo Commission for a year. He encouraged county residents to “leave it up to the judge, let the judge decide.” At the hearing in Bluff, Blanding City Councilman Robert Ogle presented the Blanding City statement. Ogle said, “Good governance would never demand that a city be fractured and disenfranchised, as this plan does.” Ogle summarily dismissed the maps that were presented and asked why different maps were presented in both hearings. Ogle encouraged the judge and Grofman to “do their work, redo the maps and make a good decision for the people of San Juan County.” Paul Dent, a resident of Bluff for several years, said he does not think that the 2010 Census was correct. He suggested that the court “go back and update the numbers.” The 2010 Census found that San Juan County was 50.4 percent Native American. Dent asked if the population drops to 49.9 percent would the court redraw the districts? Gary Guymon outlined his experience teaching in the local schools. Guymon said, “We share many things. We want to be successful and have jobs and opportunities.” “We hate to see Blanding split up,” said Guymon. Leonard Gorman, who heads the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, said he was tasked to redistrict San Juan County. He spoke for ten minutes, recounting the principles of the Constitution, the Voting Rights Act and good governance. Gorman called for a special election for all eight positions in 2018 and said that the county should redraw precincts after every Census. Jay Mueller of Mexican Hat said that there is a unique situation in San Juan County. He asked, “Does the Navajo Nation have their own government? Can we have a nation within a nation? Will that stand? Mueller closed by stating, “Tear down that wall, that reservation wall, and let’s become Americans.” Nate Sosa welcomed the group to Bluff and said, “This is what the democratic process should have looked like all along. Just because you don’t pay property tax doesn’t mean your vote should be diluted.” Sosa also called for a special election for all eight seats in 2018. Reuben Jim said, “To the people in Utah, I hope you understand exactly what you are getting yourself into. In Arizona, they are still on the same roads I grew up in. There is steady improvement in San Juan County. “I don’t want this county to be divided. That is what I see racially. The people in San Juan County are good people. Reconsider all these alignments.” Chester Johnson of Aneth said Utah Navajos should be involved in the process. “We have good communication with San Juan County and our elected officials. Don’t see any need for the Navajo Nation to come in with this lawsuit.” Johnson called the lawsuit silly and said it will cost too much money. He added that the rumored $2.5 million in attorney fees could be better spent locally rather than paying attorneys. Johnathan Nez, Vice President of the Navajo Nation, said that the judge found that the current boundary lines are unconstitutional and violate the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution. Nez said that the Navajo Nation filed suit because San Juan County wasn’t doing what needed to be done. He added that Utah Navajos should decide on their leaders, elect a representative of their choice, and have equity in the funds spent by the county and the schools. Louise Rock, from the Oljato chapter, was the last person to give public comment. Rock said she would have preferred more public hearings. She preferred Option B for the Commission district and Option 1 for the school board. Rock said Blanding should have their own district area and added, “The more, the merrier in one community.” Rock said it was an historic moment for San Juan County and said it would be better to use the attorney fee money “in our community rather than sending it to the Navajo Nation.”
Comments
(0)
Comments-icon Post a Comment
No Comments Yet
Fire in the sky–Blue Mountain sunset.  Sherie Haller photo
Fire in the sky–Blue Mountain sunset. Sherie Haller photo
slideshow
Hearings Thursday will discuss voting boundaries
Nov 14, 2017 | 532 views | 0 0 comments | 186 186 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Preliminary conceptual plans have been released for new boundaries for the voting districts that are used to select members of the San Juan County Commission and the San Juan School Board. The boundaries are being redrawn after a lawsuit was filed by the Navajo Nation which argues that the previous boundaries were unconstitutional. Federal Judge Robert Shelby Federal and “Special Master” Dr. Bernard Grofman will take public comment on the possible voting district boundaries at hastily-called public hearings on November 16 in Monticello and Bluff. The hearing at the Hideout Community Center in Monticello will begin at 10:30 a.m., while the hearing at the Bluff Community Center will begin at 3:30 p.m. Maps showing the proposed boundaries of each option are available at the San Juan Record website, at sjrnews.com. The judge has signaled that he intends to finalize the boundaries by December 15, so they will be in place for the 2018 elections. As a result, a significant number of details will need to be worked out by December 15. There is a chance that all three commission seats and all five school district seats will be placed on the November 6, 2018 general election ballot. The Navajo Nation sued San Juan County in 2012, arguing that the voting districts violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. In the 2010 US Census, Native Americans made up 50.4 percent of the population of San Juan County. Despite these numbers, there has never been more than one Native American on the three-member Commission, or more than two Native Americans on the five-member school board. The lawsuit argues that Native Americans in San Juan County were packed into voting districts that ensured they would not win a majority on either governing board. Shelby previously ruled that the district boundaries should be adjusted. He recently rejected the adjusted voting boundaries that were established by San Juan County for the 2016 election. The judge ruled that the new districts established by San Juan County for the 2016 elections were unconstitutional because they were drawn with race as the preponderant motive. Dr. Bernard Grofman was hired to draw the new boundaries. He is an election district expert and teaches at the University of California at Irvine. Grofman states that he avoided the “use of race as a preponderant criterion for redistricting”. Grofman outlines several of the factors that complicate issues in San Juan County, including the small number of population centers in the county, and the “stark pattern of racial separation in the county. Grofman writes, “These population and demographics facts impose considerable constraints on what is feasible without making race a preponderant factor in line drawing.” Commission districts: There are three proposed maps for the three commission districts, with all three maps having a northern county, a southeastern county, and a southwestern county district. The three districts each include the same number of residents. While Grofman states that race factors were not considered while drawing the boundaries, under all three options, the demographics of the proposed commission district boundaries will create a Native American majority in two of the Commission voting districts. The northern district will have an 11.6 percent Native population in Option 1, an 8.8 percent Native population in Option 2, and a 11.8 percent Native population in Option 3. The southwestern district will have a 78.7 percent Native population in Option 1, a 61.7 percent Native population in Option 2, and a 64.7 percent Native population in Option 3. The southeastern district will have a 67.2 percent Native population in Option 1, an 86.1 percent Native population in Option 2, and a 79.9 percent Native population in Option 3. The rough outline of the districts in all three options are similar. The options can be considered as variations of a single theme rather than three separate options. The Blanding area is generally split between the three districts under all three options, even though the Blanding City limits are split between two of the districts in all three options. The City of Blanding has an estimated population of 3,375, with a rough estimate of 1,000 additional people living outside of city limits but in the Blanding area. In general, the homes of the existing commissioners are split between the three districts. However, Commissioner Bruce Adams and Phil Lyman would both be in the same district under option 1. School districts: There are two proposed maps for the five school district boundaries. The school districts each have the same number of residents and are roughly built around the schools in the sprawling school system. While the school districts will have fewer changes than the commission districts, there are some changes. Grofman writes that the conceptual maps split the Navajo Nation into three separate districts “since the population in this southern portion of the county is in excess of what is needed for two school board districts.” The proportion of Native American voters in the respective school voting districts will create a Native American majority in three of the five districts. That has been the case for several decades, even though there have never been more than two Native Americans on the school board. District 1 (Monticello and north) will have a 6.2 percent Native population under both options. District 2 (south of Monticello and north Blanding) will have a 24.8 percent Native population under both options. District 3 (southeast Blanding, White Mesa and Bluff) will have a 58.4 percent Native population under Option 1, and a 65.2 percent Native population in Option 2. District 4 (eastern county, including Montezuma Creek, Aneth, Cedar Point and Ucolo) will have an 83.8 percent Native population under both options. District 5 (western county, including Navajo Mountain, Oljato and Mexican Hat) will have a 96.1 percent Native population under both option 1, and an 89.3 percent Native population in Option 2. Under both scenarios, it appears as if current board members Merri Shumway and Lori Maughan both live in district #2. Similarly, it appears as if current board members Elsie Dee and Steve Black both live in district #3. Attorneys for the Navajo Nation suggest that the judge is likely to force the county to pay the approximately $2.5 million in attorney fees for the lawsuits. The county paid the $350 an hour fee for the work of the “Special Master.”
Comments
(0)
Comments-icon Post a Comment
No Comments Yet
Yes to Bluff incorporation, no to Blanding alcohol
Nov 14, 2017 | 630 views | 0 0 comments | 195 195 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Approximately 2,800 voters participated in the November 7 general election in San Juan County, with municipal ballot issues that will impact the future of Bluff, Blanding and Monticello. The question of whether or not to incorporate in Bluff had a clear answer as 74 percent of voters approved incorporation. In total, 90 voters approved incorporation and 32 voters opposed. Eighty percent of voters in the Bluff area participated in the election. Bluff can lay claim to three titles in San Juan County: the newest, the oldest and the largest community in San Juan County. The first area to be settled is now the last area to be incorporated. With a new boundary extending along the San Juan River from St Christopher’s Mission to Comb Ridge and north on the Bluff Bench, Bluff covers an enormous amount of territory. With more than 38 square miles for its 265 residents, Bluff is also easily the largest city in the county. With voter approval, leaders will move forward on the next steps in the incorporation process. It is anticipated that a few city employees will be hired and elections will be held in June, 2018 to elect a Mayor and City Council. In Blanding, a ballot question of whether to allow alcohol sales went down to defeat, with 579 voters opposing the sale of alcohol and 306 voters approving. The Blanding City Council has said that they would follow the wishes of voters. Nearly two-thirds of voters in Blanding cast ballots in the election and two-thirds of the votes oppose the sale of alcohol. As a result, the long term ban on alcohol sales in Blanding will continue. While the issue of alcohol sales in Blanding has been discussed many times over the years, this ballot question was the most formal measure of voter sentiment in city history. With the vote, the question can be put to rest, at least for a while. Joe B. Lyman will become the new mayor of Blanding in January. He ran unopposed and earned 658 votes. Lyman currently has a seat on the Blanding City Council and will resign that position in January to become the new Mayor. For the two four-year positions on the Blanding City Council, Robert Turk and Cheryl Bowers earned the most votes, with 443 for Turk and 434 for Bowers. Finishing third is Taylor Harrison with 392 and Robert Ogle follows with 335 votes. Logan Shumway was elected to a two-year position on the Blanding City Council with 581 votes, defeating challenger Corey Raisor, who earned 279 votes. In Monticello, Mayor Tim Young was re-elected to a second term with 374 votes, defeating challenger Craig Leavitt, who earned 163 votes. George Rice was re-elected to a second term on the Monticello City Council with 392 votes. The race for the remaining seat on the Monticello City Council was very close as Bayley Hedglin and Daniel Hunter were neck and neck. After four late ballots were added to the totals, Hedglin earned the spot with 276 votes, compared to 273 for Hunter. In total, 60 percent of Monticello voters participated in the election. In the race to replace Congressman Jason Chaffetz in the US House of Representatives, Republican John Curtis earned 1,466 votes in San Juan County, outpacing Democrat Kathie Allen, who earned 1,054 votes. Jim Bennett earned 180 votes, John Whalen earned 130, Jason Christensen earned 80, and Joseph Buchman earned 73. Curtis was the winner of the overall race and has already replaced Chaffetz in Congress. Voter turnout was the largest in Monticello, Blanding and Bluff, which had municipal questions on the ballot. In the rest of the county, which had only the Congressional race on the ballot, voter participation was 37 percent.
Comments
(0)
Comments-icon Post a Comment
No Comments Yet
The San Juan Record welcomes comments on our stories. Please be civil, respectful, focused and humane. Postings are not edited and are the responsibility of the author. You agree not to post comments that are abusive, threatening or obscene. Postings may be removed at the discretion of sjrnews.com