City Hall

Candidate wins legal fight with City of Citrus Heights over election dispute

Porsche Middleton
Planning Commissioner Porsche Middleton is running for a seat on the Citrus Heights City Council. // Photo courtesy of candidate

Sentinel staff report–
The City of Citrus Heights and a candidate for city council were in court on Wednesday to resolve a dispute over whether candidate Porsche Middleton could use the title “Planning Commissioner” as the official title voters would see under her name on the ballot.

The City had argued that Middleton, although serving as a Citrus Heights Planning Commissioner since being appointed in 2017, did not qualify to have her ballot designation listed as such due to the position allegedly “not requir[ing] a principal amount of an individual’s time” and therefore not being one of her “principal professions, vocations, or occupations,” as required by the Elections Code for ballot designations. 

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner disagreed with the City and sided with Middleton, who had argued that her title as Planning Commissioner was the most accurate “descriptive identifier.” In court filings, Middleton’s attorney, Brian Hildreth, said her responsibilities on the Planning Commission “unquestionably” qualify as a principal activity, stating that in 2016 Middleton had closed a consulting business she operated and currently spends about 20 hours per week as part of her duties as a commissioner.

Her attorney also said that a city council candidate in 2006 was allowed to use the title of “Planning Commissioner/Businesswoman” and argued there was “no discernible reason” for the City to treat Middleton any differently.

The city manager’s office released a statement to The Sentinel following the court’s decision, stating the City would comply and allow Middleton to have her preferred ballot designation listed as “Planning Commissioner,” rather than her secondary choice of “Community Volunteer.”

“The basis for the court’s decision was Ms. Middleton’s statement, under penalty of perjury, that she spends ‘approximately twenty hours per week currently on her duties,'” the statement said. “Regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the court’s decision we respect the ruling and will promptly comply.”

Middleton told The Sentinel in an email Wednesday night that the judge’s decision was “a clear message that my work as a Planning Commissioner is important for the voters to know.”

Related: Five candidates qualify for Citrus Heights City Council race

Middleton previously ran for council in 2016 and placed last of the eight candidates running, earning just over 2% of the vote, but she appears to be making a comeback since her last bid and could be among the top contenders this year. After moving to Citrus Heights four years ago, she now serves as an assembly district delegate for the California Democratic Party and has gained a lengthy list of endorsements from organizations and officials in the region, including several Sacramento City Councilmembers and the Wellstone Progressive Democrats of Sacramento.

According to the latest campaign finance disclosures filed by candidates, Middleton has also topped all other council candidates in campaign contributions, reporting more than $25,000 in total contributions —largely from individuals and organizations outside Citrus Heights, including a donor in Pennsylvania whose name and occupation is listed as actress Susan Sarandon.

By contrast, Both Mayor Steve Miller and Vice Mayor Jeannie Bruins, who are both seeking re-election this year, reported raising no campaign funds as of the latest disclosure period, which covers contributions through June 30, 2018. The other two candidates in the race, Councilman Al Fox and labor relations manager Treston Shull, also both reported no campaign funds were raised through June 30 — but later reported receiving several donations over $1,000 in mid-August.

Campaign disclosures are required by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) for local candidates who raise or spend over $2,000. Two pre-election disclosure filings are required by the commission, with an additional requirement for candidates to file a separate form within 24 hours of a donation being received of $1,000 or more.

The next filing deadline is Sept. 27, which will cover contributions and expenses from July 1 through Sept. 22 of this year.

See campaign finance filings for all candidates to date: click here.