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Now that the 2010 census is completed, Hanford officials are getting ready to redraw the city's electoral boundaries once again. But unlike 10 years ago, there won't be a citizen's advisory committee.

Rather than creating an independent body to review and draft redistricting plans, the Hanford City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to put the city attorney in charge of the key task instead - a decision that drew criticism from some.

Officials say it will simplify the process as well as cut costs.

"That is a less cumbersome process than having an advisory do it," said attorney Randy Edwards with Griswold, LaSalle, Cobb, Dowd & Gin, which acts as the city's legal counsel. "If you have an advisory committee do it, you'd have to comply with the Brown Act and meet all those time requirements and issues."

The Ralph M. Brown Act is the state's open meeting law.

Edwards did follow up by saying the public will have enough opportunity to comment as part of the decision-making process, since the city attorney will recommend the City Council hold two public hearings to review the proposed maps and census data, as well as a third hearing where the council will vote to accept or deny the redistricting proposal.

That put City Councilman Jim Irwin at ease.

Irwin said he was initially leaning toward voting to form the committee. But after hearing Edwards explain there will be public participation in the process, Irwin expressed his support for the city attorney's plan.

Intended to ensure fair and equal representation, redistricting is undertaken after every census to reflect changes in population that might have left districts with widely varying populations. Concentrated growth seen in different parts of Hanford in the last 10 years could result in significant changes to boundary lines for the city's five council districts.

No one was allowed to testify during the council discussion Tuesday because it was not a public hearing item.

That did not stop Andrew Mattos, a Hanford resident, from crying foul by holding up a sheet of paper that read "Conflict of Interest" during the council discussion.

Outside the council chambers, Mattos later expressed his concerns.

"Because of Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, litigation is highly likely over any new redistricting plan that is put forth by the city," Mattos said.

"The question in my mind comes down to who pays to defend the city if that happens, and who is the attorney who helped draw out the plan in the first place. That is conflict of interest."

Mattos supported the creation of an advisory panel with citizen participation, saying it would ensure transparency and avoid any appearance of backdoor politics.

But the council argued that using the city attorney would be far less costly. "We believe it would be more cost effective than hiring a demographer and getting an outside firm," Edwards told the council.

When the city underwent redistricting 10 years ago, the city formed a committee and hired an outside law firm to assist with the process. That cost the city almost $60,000, said Mayor Dan Chin. Edwards estimated it would cost the city $10,000-$15,000 if his law firm did the job.

"The last time we did this, I remember it cost us $60,000," Chin said. "That is significantly more than what is being proposed."

Not necessarily, said Robin Mattos, wife of Andrew Mattos, who also expressed her displeasure with Tuesday's development outside the council chambers.

She pointed out that even if an advisory committee was formed, the council resolution would have called on the city attorney to provide legal counsel. Assisting the process would have come under the normal purview of the city attorney, thus costing the city less, she argued.

City officials have a Nov. 1 deadline to submit a redistricting plan to the California secretary of state. But they have to get pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice because Kings County ran afoul of the Voting Rights Act in 1972.

The Kings County Board of Supervisors took similar action earlier this month to reject a proposal to form an advisory redistricting committee, saying that the county process of drawing districts has always been fair and that any changes made will have to be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2429.


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