By Robert Haugh
It was supposed to be a nice, ceremonial meeting last night. It started out that way. The City Council said goodbye to outgoing members and swore in newly elected members.
Then Raj Chahal made a motion to discuss the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) lawsuit in closed session.
That’s the lawsuit that created six districts because a judge concluded that there’s “racially polarized” voting in Santa Clara. The City has appealed the decision.
But Chahal wouldn’t tell the Council or City Attorney Brian Doyle why he thought a closed session was needed or why he wanted to discuss it.
So there was a lengthy discussion and debate. It took over two hours. Wow.
Days ago, Chahal asked that a closed session be scheduled for December 15. A majority of the Council would have to agree to put it on that future meeting’s agenda.
Doyle gave the Council a memo updating the CVRA lawsuit. It’s scheduled for a hearing on December 17. According to Doyle, all the legal fees and court costs (except for a few hundred dollars) have been paid. Doyle said the arguments for both sides have been written and submitted.
Doyle pressed Chahal for a reason for a closed session. But Chahal wouldn’t say why.
Doyle told the Council that he couldn’t participate in a closed session without knowing the topic. He also raised issues about transparency. So did members of the public who spoke later.
Doyle said that he’d have to advise the new Councilmembers that they had major serious issues to be concerned about. That’s because as candidates some of them had made statements about dropping the lawsuit during their campaigns.
Doyle cited common law conflicts rules, quid pro quo issues and gift of public funds possibilities.
After a few hours of debate, Chahal finally admitted that he wanted to explore dropping the lawsuit and settling. (Although earlier in the debate at one point, Chahal said he didn’t want to dismiss the case).
So, Chahal wants to consider dropping the lawsuit or settling 48 hours before the hearing. After both sides turned in written arguments weeks ago. And all the fees have been paid. Wow.
Doyle said that many attorneys that he’s consulted with laughed at the idea of dropping or settling this close to a hearing. Doyle also said in response to questions that he thought the City had a good chance to win. But he wouldn’t put a percentage number on the chances.
“I think the public has a right to know that the Council is making an irrational decision,“ Doyle said about Chahal’s idea.
Newly elected Councilman Kevin Park made a motion to have Chahal and Doyle meet to figure out what needs to be discussed. And then the Council could review the issue later, maybe on the December 15th meeting or after the December 17th hearing.
That motion passed unanimously, 7-0. Yup, Chahal voted for it, too.
If the first meeting is an example, it’s going to be a long year.