Commissioners call for Sant to recuse himself from redistricting process
Didier, Mullen assert that attorney entered county into agreement without permission
Last updated 9/16/2021 at 7:31pm
PASCO – Call it a no-confidence vote.
During a heated meeting Tuesday evening, Franklin County commissioners called on Prosecuting Attorney Shawn Sant to step down from involvement in county redistricting.
By a 2-1 vote, commissioners approved a motion calling on Sant to recuse himself.
Chairman Clint Didier and Commissioner Rocky Mullen voted for Sant to step down; Commissioner Lowell “Brad” Peck opposed the move.
Redistricting comes every 10 years and is based on U.S. Census population data. The goal of the process is to create equal-population voting districts.
The call for Sant to step down stems from his involvement in altering future county voting districts.
According to Didier and Mullen, Sant and a contracted attorney entered into an agreement on behalf of the county with League of United Latin American Citizens without approval by a majority of Franklin County commissioners.
A judge OK’d the agreement during a court hearing earlier this week.
Didier blasted Sant for accepting an agreement that painted the county as racist, especially since it wasn’t approved by commissioners.
“We stand against confessing that we are racist,” Didier said during the Tuesday night commission meeting in the Trade, Recreation and Agricultural Center (also referred to as TRAC or the Hapo Center).
Sant attempted several times to shut down discussion of the issue, calling for commissioners instead to meet next week in executive session with himself and contracted lawyers.
He cited a confidentiality clause in paperwork between his office, the outside attorney and the commission.
“Let me help you on this right now,” Didier said. “I move to waive confidential privilege on correspondence as of Sept. 1.”
“You can’t do that,” countered Peck, who said he would not waive confidentiality.
But Didier read aloud from documents written by Sant, noting that the “board” could waive confidentiality.
And in a 2-1 vote, Didier and Mullen waived confidentiality so the matter could be discussed publicly.
Didier, Peck and Mullen all agreed with Sant that the topic had been broached during a closed door meeting Sept. 1.
But they disagreed on whether the prosecuting attorney was allowed to act on their behalf.
“I never remember taking a vote on anything to do with redistricting,” Mullen said.
Both Mullen and Didier said they were shocked to read in a newspaper earlier this week that the county had signed the agreement with activists trying to force the county to carve out a specifically Latino voting district.
Several residents, too, said during the public hearing portion of the meeting that they were shocked by the news coverage.
James Jimenez, a lifelong Hispanic resident of the county, said he believes the decision to sign onto an agreement was a “mistake” that “needs to be corrected.”
“I was there and you guys didn’t decide this was the route we were going with in this redistricting,” added Steve Baumann, a former candidate for the county commission who regularly attends county meetings.
Residents asked why a redistricting commission had been created if attorneys were just going to get together behind closed doors and divide the county.
“Because of litigation, we had to put that process on hold,” Sant said.
Didier said the agreement was “not consistent with the objectives of the majority of the board,” calling the move by Sant and the outside attorney a “breach of trust” and “problematic.”
Peck, however, didn’t see it that way.
According to Peck, he was in the same meeting with the attorneys as Didier and Mullen, but came away with a different understanding.
“Their claims will require them to merely have forgotten information given to them,” he said, noting “information was provided.”
“But there was no consensus (to move forward with an agreement),” Didier said.
Prosecuting Attorney Sant, however, asserted that it “was very clear that the board understood.”
“We did present to the board the course of action that was in the best interest of the county,” he said.
Didier continued to point out that Sant and the contracted attorney acted on their own without approval. He also called for Sant to turn over “all correspondence between you and the plaintiff in this case” for commissioner review.
“Put it in writing,” Sant replied.