County redistricting process heads back to drawing board
Jul. 16—STOCKTON — The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors has scrapped the process to draw new district boundaries after a perceived conflict of interest was brought to light in recent weeks.
Supervisors on June 8 adopted a contract with the San Joaquin Redistricting Coalition to begin the process of examining and possibly redrawing their respective district boundary lines, as well as the lines for the U.S. Congress, U.S Senate, California State Senate and California Assembly boundaries.
However, on Tuesday, Supervisor Kathy Miller said information had been brought to her attention that SJRC member Ted Berg was a campaign consultant for Board Chairman Tom Patti in his two supervisorial races.
It was also discovered that SJRC member Blaine Bibb — founder of TAB Communications of Fair Oaks — was a long-time contributor to Patti's campaigns. Documents attached to Tuesday's agenda show TAB Communications contributed thousands of dollars to Patti's campaigns.
Neither Bibb or Berg, nor Patti disclosed the information during the June 8 meeting in which the SJRC was being vetted, Miller said.
If the relationship between Bibb and Patti had been the only piece of information brought to her attention, Miller said she would not have "red-flagged" the contract. However, the undisclosed relationship between Patti and Berg disturbed her, she said.
"Whether it did or did not give you an unfair advantage, it created a perception with the public that this could occur," she told Patti. "Had I known this, I would not have approved this contract. I would have felt that it created a bad impression with the public and I certainly would not have seconded the motion. Regardless of the motivation for why the relationship wasn't disclosed, it made me feel like I had been misled. And I believe the public could easily feel the same way looking at this."
Patti asked County Counsel Mark Myles if his receiving contributions from two consultants constituted anything illegal. Myles replied that they did not, according to the Fair Political Practices Commission or the board's own Code of Ethics.
The board chairman then said he understood the concern brought by members of the public and Miller, acknowledging that these kinds of issues must be vetted.
Nothing was masked, there was nothing to hide, and nothing illegal transpired that would cause concern, he added.
In letters read by Clerk of the Board Rachel DeBord during the public comment portion of the discussion, residents wanted to know if there were any other present pr past relationships Patti had with SJRC members.
"I understand this concern and that there appears to be a conflict," Patti said. "I want to be very crystal clear. At the meeting we decided for this single one vendor that answered the RFP ... and in that meeting I clearly stated that they would work in autonomy of the board. Not under the board."
Bibb told supervisors his relationship to Patti was not intentionally left out of the vetting process June 8, as supervisors and the Request for Proposals Committee did not ask him for that kind of information.
Other boards and committees in the past have asked him if he has contributed to campaigns, he said, and that information has been supplied in interviews.
"The reality is this is all public information, and those relationships have no impact on the good work to be completed by SJRC on behalf of San Joaquin County voters," he said. "I certainly understand why the question was asked, but there is no agenda here aside form a private citizen engaged in a passion project to serve the community."
Vice Chairman Chuck Winn, who represents Ripon and Lodi, told Patti the discussion was not about whether he had violated any political laws, but whether there was a conflict of interest that could have been perceived as "cronyism" to the public.
Winn told Bibb that he has asked the SJRC what kinds of things they have done throughout the entire Central Valley in terms of political action, and for someone — whether it was Patti or a consultant — to remain silent and not disclose a relationship was curious.
"The fact of matter is, in my opinion, (this process is) dead," Winn said. "I have no use for this to continue on. I don't care if we replace the other two parties, its over. Because I feel like this board has been deceived or at least there has been an omission that should have been provided during our discussion. And if not by the consultant, then certainly by you, Chair Patti, because you obviously knew that and made no comment."
Ultimately, the board unanimously approved forming a local advisory group that included Winn and supervisor Robert Rickman, various county staff and community members to create a new request for proposals in finding a new consulting firm.