Four members of the San Gabriel City Council have given themselves authority to decide whether a fifth councilman-elect is eligible to take office.
Chin-Ho Liao won a seat in the March 5th election. But the question of whether he really lives in San Gabriel and can be sworn into office has been the subject of testimony before the city council from neighbors, his wife and a former friend who filed the complaint.
Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson said it is unusual for a city council to handle this type of decision itself, especially when some of those making the decision campaigned together for defeated incumbents — including Liao's opponent.
"Now their backers are the ones making this decision," she said. "This does not look like a neutral body."
With the wins by Liao and another Asian-American candidate in the election, San Gabriel would have two Asian-American voices on the council for the first time in several years. Only two other Asian-Americans have won elective office in the city's 100-year existence.
Lawyers from the Asian Pacific American Legal Center helped represent Liao at the hearing. Eugene Lee, director of the center's Voting Rights Project, said Asian-American voters' confidence in the fairness of municipal elections is at stake.
"If the City Council succeeds in basically, not seating Mr. Liao, then we believe that would essentially nullify the votes of voters in the city of San Gabriel," Lee said.
Asian-Americans make up a majority of residents in the city, but they are under-represented in the voting population. Lee said barring Liao from taking office could make voters of color less likely to participate in elections.
The attorney who represents the San Gabriel resident who challenged Liao's residency said the political alliances of the other council members are not relevant. Arnold Alvarez-Glasman said Liao failed to legally document his move into the city.
Liao has already won a Superior Court judge's order requiring the City Council to install him in office by May 14, or prove to the court why he may not serve. The City Council is scheduled to decide at a special meeting May 6 whether Liao may take office.