So How Many Lawyers Can Dance On The Head Of A Pin?

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Big Brother knows best. So don’t bother your poor little brains. Just leave it all up to the U.S. Justice Department. That’s the gist of the advice the Gila County Board of Supervisors received this week as its consultants explained the strange logic they believe grips the apparently rigid minds of federal civil rights lawyers.

Now, we’re fans of the Voting Rights Act.

Congress enacted this farsighted law in 1965 as the nation grappled with institutionalized racism that deliberately denied basic civil rights to millions of Americans.

But now we must fast forward half a century — and consider the issue before the Gila County Board of Supervisors, charged with redrawing district lines to ensure each district has an equal number of voters.

The current district lines divide the Hispanic voters in south county between District 2 and 3. District 3 also includes the San Carlos Apache Reservation — which means minorities make up 52 percent of the district’s population. However, the Tonto Apache Tribe remains nestled in the overwhelmingly white, north county District 1.

The Tonto Apache have submitted a proposed map that would move the 200 reservation voters and the surrounding precinct into District 3 — putting the Tonto and the San Carlos Apache in the same district. To balance out the populations, the Tonto Apache plan would move Hispanics in the Winkleman area from District 3 into District 2.

The net effect would increase the Native American voting bloc in District 3 as well as the Hispanic voting bloc in District 2. It would also increase the total percentage of minority voters in District 2 modestly. However, it would also reduce the combined percentage of minority voters in District 3 from about 52 percent to about 44 percent.

That’s a non-starter with the Justice Department, say the county’s consultants — one of whom used to work for the Justice Department.

Now, that strikes us as downright patronizing — especially since it appears some leaders of the Hispanic community in south county like the Tonto Apache plan as well.

So, let’s get this straight: To protect the rights of minority voters in Gila County the Justice Department wants to ignore the views of those same minority voters?

Really? That’s the horse you want to ride? Won’t you look kind of silly putting that saddle on backwards?

Star Valley must not muzzle councilors or commissioners

Hello — what’s this about an elected town council trying to keep its members from talking with other groups without permission from the whole council?

This strange notion emerged recently from the Star Valley Town Council, which wants to keep members from talking too much. But council members are elected to do just that — meet with anyone they feel they need to and talk about any subject in which they’re interested.

Granted, no council member should pretend to represent the position of the town unless the entire council has acted. But surely council members can be trusted to express their own views in talking to voters and other public officials.

Now, admittedly appointed town commissions are a bit different. Commission members appointed by elected councilors must be sure they follow the policies set forth by the town council. They should be gathering information so they can make sound recommendations to the council. Those appointed committee and commission members do not have the authority to commit the town to any project.

Elected council members should be encouraged to talk with other people outside of the council chamber — which includes outside agencies, citizens, companies and organizations. For some reason, some Star Valley council members fear their colleagues may say something that commits the town to do something — even though only a vote of the full council can embody any such commitment.

Surely, council members can grasp the distinction between expressing their own views and misrepresenting the position of the council without a policy that sounds suspiciously like an effort to muzzle individual council members. Worse yet, the policy would require council members to clear their statement with Town Manager Tim Grier, which completely turns the proper relationships on its collective head. The town manager works for the council — not vice versa.

Restricting whom an elected official can meet with looks far too much like a gag order that would violate a council member’s free speech rights and limit the ability of a council member to do his or her job. Council members should already know they cannot make policy or even direct town staff without a vote of the council.

So the town council needs to be careful how it writes this unnecessary policy lest they trample on the rights of their fellow councilors.

Reminding each other about what they can do or can’t do is a good thing, but carrying that too far is a bad thing.

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