CITY HALL — When a 14-member commission begins the process of redrawing California’s legislative district boundaries next year, Santa Monica City Clerk Maria Stewart could be among those calling the shots.
Stewart is one of the 36 remaining candidates for a seat on the commission out of a field of nearly 30,000 who applied (4,500 applicants followed through by submitting a supplemental application and obtaining letters of recommendation, according to the commission’s website).
Stewart is one of 12 remaining applicants eligible for the commission’s four seats reserved for people not affiliated with either of the two major political parties.
The first eight members of the commission (three Democrats, three Republicans and two people not affiliated with either party) will be selected randomly from among the 36 candidates today by the state auditor. The first eight members will then have until the end of the year to select the other six members. The commission’s final makeup will be five Democrats, five Republicans and four people from neither party.
“Given the number of applicants, it’s a little bit overwhelming. I’m really honored that I have made it this far and I hope that if I’m selected I will do a good job for them,” Stewart said on Wednesday.
The commission was established in 2008 when voters approved Proposition 11, the Voters First Act, which shifted the responsibility for who draws the political boundaries for the California Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization districts from lawmakers to a new 14-member commission.
Redistricting for state legislative districts is set to begin early next year. This month, voters approved Prop. 20, which added the task of adjusting the boundary lines for the state’s Congressional districts to the commission’s responsibilities.
Stewart received letters of recommendation to serve on the commission, formally known as the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, from City Councilman Richard Bloom and former city manager Lamont Ewell.
Although she was hired in 1995 by the Santa Monica City Council, lawyers for the commission have found it would not represent a conflict of interest for Stewart to retain her job as city clerk while sitting on the commission.
Under the city’s charter, Stewart is not an “at will” employee who serves at the council’s pleasure, like the other two employees hired directly by the council, City Manager Rod Gould and City Attorney Marsha Moutrie, are. Rather, she is a classified employee who could only be dismissed for cause, according to a memo by Steven Benito Russo, the commission’s chief of investigations. As a classified employee who enjoys regular civil servant employment protections, her role at City Hall doesn’t conflict with the politically sensitive duties of commission members, the memo stated.
The position comes with a $300 per day stipend. With most of the commission’s work expected to take place on weekends, Stewart said if she’s selected she won’t ask for a leave of absence.
In citing her qualifications to sit on the commission, Stewart referenced her experience in the early 1990s when she was Pasadena’s city clerk and she worked on an overhaul of the city’s seven voting districts.
“I think it’s really exciting. It’s the first time this is going to happen,” she said of the statewide commission’s work. “I hope that the work of the commission, whoever the members end up being, is a good thing for the voters of California.”