Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Experts question San Gabriel's decision not to seat councilman-elect

Quoted in this article in the Pasadena Star.

SAN GABRIEL-- Election experts and fair government advocates questioned a decision made last week by the San Gabriel City Council not to seat Councilman-elect Chin Ho Liao because of a challenge filed with the city questioning his residency qualifications.
Doug Johnson, a fellow at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College, said the council's decision not only to refuse to seat Liao but also launch its own investigation into his true residency was "very unusual. "
"It's a question for a court to remove him from office, the city is on shaky ground in trying to refuse to seat him," Johnson said. "Councils aren't really judicial bodies. "
The city received a complaint and threat of litigation from resident Fred Paine on March 19 against Liao. In turn, Liao's attorney George Yin has threatened legal action against the city.
Though Liao was the second-highest vote-getter in the March 5 vote, the old council - which included ousted incumbents Mario De La Torre and David Gutierrez - voted Tuesday not to swear him in along with the other winners, incumbent Kevin Sawkins and newcomer Jason Pu.
The council also voted to hold a public hearing to determine whether Liao can be seated on the council. Assistant City Manager Marcella Marlowe said the city has not yet determined the details.
Only Councilwoman Juli Costanzo voted against the council hearing,
arguing that the issue be referred to an outside party. But Councilman John Harrington said Tuesday he did not want to "shirk" the responsibility. "If someone raises a question, it's my job to investigate," Harrington said. "My goal is to make sure justice is done. "
Many residents spoke out against the council's decision Tuesday, accusing the council of going against "the will of the people." During the tense campaign, Liao did not deny that he had moved from the home where his wife and daughter still live in to a San Gabriel apartment six months before the election.
Costanzo and Harrington endorsed Sawkins, De La Torre and Gutierrez, who ran as a unit. The three brought up Liao's residency during the campaign.
Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, said the council's decision prematurely convicts Liao.
"If someone is elected, until it's been proven that person doesn't live in the district, I'm not clear that just based on their own findings that they do have power to just not seat someone," Levinson said. "And it seems to be there is kind of a conflict of interest here when the losing incumbents decide to hold hearings on basically whether or not they should be replaced."


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