Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

After local Democrats raised concerns that the law firm selected as legal counsel for the Citizens’ Independent Redistricting Commission was too biased toward conservatives, the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a transitional law firm to serve in the interim Tuesday.

The board approved a contract with Churchwell White LLP, with a not-to-exceed amount of $100,000. They approved the contract as is, with direction to terminate the contract by January 31, 2021 unless the commission otherwise decides it wishes to keep Churchwell White LLP.

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The stakes are high when it comes to ensuring unbiased legal counsel around redistricting. Every 10 years, a redistricting commission redraws the boundaries for the county’s five supervisorial districts. The district boundaries change so that the five supervisors elected to represent those districts each serve about 90,000 residents and more evenly reflect the county’s diverse population. Depending on how the lines are drawn, redistricting can influence future county elections.

After a pool of 45 potential commissioners was selected by Joe Holland, the county clerk, recorder, assessor and registrar of voters, the redistricting commission was then selected from the pool by District Attorney Joyce Dudley and consists of four men and one woman, aged 51-73. Two of them are Democrats, two are decline-to-state, and one is a Republican. At the end of January, the commission will either continue with the interim legal counsel or it will select its own. It was vital to the supervisors that the commissioners make the choice.

“What is important to me is that if they don’t make a decision, I want [the contract] to terminate,” 1st District Supervisor Das Williams said. “To me, they should have to make a decision one way or the other, not that our decision stands if they don’t make one.”

The county administration office also selected a demographics firm for the commission that is under fire among Democrats as well. The company, the National Demographics Corporation, reportedly has a reputation as a pro-Republican firm.

To view the redistricting commission’s new contract with Churchwell White LLP, click here.

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