About two months after Yakima dropped its appeal of a judgment requiring the city to change election procedures to allow for a more representative city council, a federal agency said Prosser needed to diversify its government.
Based on its 2015 civil rights audit of the Lower Valley city, the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggested that the city advertise future city council openings in Spanish language media to ensure that women and Hispanics are being better represented.
Mayor Randy Taylor said the city will follow the recommendations, and noted that a woman and a Latino were elected last year.
“We always strive for diversity,” Taylor said.
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The city used a USDA Rural Development grant for a water project in 2010 and was randomly selected for an audit by the agency’s civil rights attorneys, said USDA Rural Development spokesman Phil Eggman.
Attorneys look for such elements as compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and that all groups in a community are being properly represented, Eggman explained.
Using 2015 information, the USDA attorneys found Prosser’s council consisted entirely of non-Latino white men, according to the June 13 letter to the city from Marti Canatsey, a community program specialist with the USDA’s Rural Development office in Yakima.
“This does not meet the outreach requirements for the lack of female and minority representation on the City Council,” Canatsey wrote. U.S. Census Bureau data from 2010 shows about 37 percent of the city’s population was of Hispanic origin, while women comprised a slight majority — about 52 percent — of city residents.
In November, Mary Ruth Edwards and Humberto Rodriguez were elected in uncontested races. Eggman said the agency was not aware of the election results.
Taylor and City Administrator Dave Stockdale said the letter was more of a friendly reminder to think about increasing diversity than a threat of legal action. Stockdale said the city could have handled the response administratively, but he decided to present it to the council during a workshop Tuesday to let members know about the audit.
In addition to the letter, council members also were given a copy of an article from the Association of Washington Cities’ Cityvision magazine about how Yakima’s City Council gained three Latina members following a federal judge’s ruling that the way Yakima council members were elected diluted Hispanic votes.
In April, council members agreed to drop their appeal of the judgment, paving the way for the city to pay the American Civil Liberties Union — which sued the city — $1.8 million in legal fees.
Stockdale said the article was included as a matter of background for council members about what happened in Yakima.
“There were no concerns with this being Yakima 2.0,” Stockdale said.