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San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith’s office shot off a memo to City Council members on Friday, telling them the city charter provides no role for the council in redistricting, except to fund the independent Redistricting Commission’s work.
The memo came a day after the IT services agency that commissioners had hoped would help them redraw council district boundaries said it would not help the commission in any way, citing conflict of interest concerns raised by Councilwoman Lorie Zapf.
That decision threw the commission’s next steps up in the air as it pushes to meet a late summer deadline for adopting a new redistricting plan. On April 21, it rejected four private consultants’ proposals to help commissioners with that work and had said it would pursue a contract with the San Diego Data Processing Corp., the city-created IT services agency.
The agency originally said it could perform the work. Then Wednesday it told the commission the job was too much for its staff to handle, though it was still willing to help commissioners acquire online software that the public could use to submit their own proposed boundary maps, something the commission would like the public to be able to do. Its executive director finally told the commission Thursday it would not do even that to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
Zapf first raised those concerns on April 21, when she asked the city attorney to examine whether the commission’s intention to pursue a contract with DPC could create conflicts. As the city moves to outsource its IT services, the City Council will decide on the winning bidder, and Zapf said she was concerned that DPC’s responsibility to draw fair district boundaries for the commission could be compromised by its interest in retaining the city’s IT contract.
Goldsmith’s office responded by telling Zapf that was not enough to disqualify DPC, and that the Redistricting Commission was free to contract with whoever it pleased. The city attorney also reminded Zapf that the City Council has no role in the redistricting process.
Nonetheless, Zapf on Thursday sent a letter to DPC’s board chairman explicitly asking the agency not to work with the Redistricting Commission and reiterating that she was concerned about a possible conflict.
Just before the Redistricting Commission’s meeting that day, DPC’s executive director, Larry Morgan, informed the commission’s chief of staff that the agency would recuse itself from any involvement because of the potential for a conflict.
Morgan informed Zapf’s spokesman of that decision in an email a couple of hours later. Morgan told the spokesman the decision had already been made by the time he saw Zapf’s request.
“I agree with Councilmember Zapf and SDDPC has already recused itself from this project to avoid the very issues that were raised. I believe that this is the best posture for SDDPC and the city,” he said in the email.