For Demetress Morris, running for Milpitas City Council is a “natural progression” in her career as a fierce advocate for equality in public education. However, this past Saturday, Morris was informed that only 19 of the 20 required signatures on her Candidate Nomination Form were approved, which means her name will not be on the ballot. She is challenging the City due to alleged mismanagement of her paperwork.
On the day when the form was due, August 7, Morris was scheduled to meet with the city clerk, Mary Lavelle, at 3 p.m, she said during a phone call interview with The Beat. After multiple calls, Morris claimed that Lavelle showed up late at around 3:25. The paperwork was not processed until 4:10 p.m., 50 minutes before the deadline. Lavelle said she would take the paperwork to the Registrar of Voters (ROV) office.
However, in an email written to Milpitas’ representative on the Board of Supervisors, Dave Cortese, Morris said that the paperwork had not reached the ROV office until after 5 p.m. Normally, if a candidate does not receive the 20 signatures needed to get on the ballot, the candidate, according to a City provision, may receive a supplemental form on which they have the opportunity to garner however many signatures they need before the deadline. However, because the paperwork was delivered late to the ROV, Morris says she did not receive the chance to do so…
“Initially [Lavelle] had me thinking it was the ROV office,” Morris said. “So I went down there yesterday, Monday, at 8 [a.m.], and they told me, ‘No, if she wants to she could allow you to get additional signatures, and it’s up to her.’”
However, Lavelle would not allow Morris to get the additional signature, Morris said.
“Being a Black woman, I feel there is always one extra hurdle to be jumped, which should not be the case,” Morris wrote in the email to Cortese. “Please investigate this matter for me as I want very much to be listed as a contender in the upcoming election.”
The morning after the deadline–Saturday, August 8–Lavelle received an email from the ROV office saying that Morris did not have enough valid signatures. Morris was notified of the same that afternoon. They had found that 2 signatures out of the 21 submitted were not valid, causing Morris to fall short of the required 20 by 1.
In preparing their paperwork, some candidates procure more than the required amount of signatures, just in case some of them are invalid. However, Morris didn’t imagine it would come down to this. “In the age of COVID, I didn’t want to go running around to people’s houses, getting more signatures than I needed,” said Morris. “I really didn’t think any of them would come out invalid.”
Despite her disappointment at recent events, Morris has decided to continue to campaign as planned. At present, she plans to run as a write-in candidate for the election.
Morris was born in San Bernardino, and raised in Oakland. Most recently Vice-Chair of the city’s Planning Commission, she founded Flame Keepers in 2004, an African-American community group that works to close the racial achievement gap in the Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD). In a 2008 article about Flame Keepers’ work at MHS, one student who’d been close to dropping out stressed the role that Morris played in encouraging her to keep going.
“Every time I see Ms. Demetress, she has something positive to say to me, and that helps in a major way. She’ll be like ‘Ooooh, Inthia, I saw that good report card!’” the student, Inthia White, was quoted saying in the article. “If Flame Keepers could go nationwide, it would really help.”
Morris’ own children, one of whom has autism, were the inspiration behind her pursuit of advocacy, she said. Moreover, she “saw a need” for helping students of color who have long been left behind due to the achievement gap.
“We’ve been working as an organization to help our community and our school district, especially in making sure that students achieve,” Morris said. “What is great about [the organization] is that everyone is involved; we are helping our students of color, but everyone is involved in that mission.”
As a City Council candidate, however, Morris’ platform is not only about ensuring equitable opportunities in education. She is also campaigning on affordable housing, environmental protections, and widespread diversity and inclusion, according to her website. In light of the pandemic however, she insists that the most pressing of the above is affordable housing:
“Housing continues to be a pressing issue,” she said. “People need somewhere to live, they need to be able to afford somewhere to live. They need to, say they get sick, have a place to recover.”
Morris is also planning to continue the progress she made with the Planning Commission on basic environmental objectives such as reducing air pollution and recycling water through the Greywater system.
“Since I was on the Planning Commission, we made new bike lanes, stuff like that, but I want to make sure that those things are a staple of what we do in the community,” she said. “[We should] allow people to get out and walk, allow people to get out and ride their bike, make sure we’re not participating in air pollution.”
“On the Planning Commission we also did Greywater,” she continued. “So water that we have already used we used to irrigate the plants and the trees…So I want to make sure those things continue and we figure out how to be more innovative in those areas.”
Earlier today, Morris received a call from Cortese’s office. “They told me they’re going to reach out to [Lavelle] and discuss my being placed on the ballot,” said Morris. “But what she decides, it will be up to her.”
In response to Morris’ claims, Lavelle told The Beat that she could not give Morris the supplemental paperwork because by the time the ROV had decided Morris did not have enough valid signatures, the deadline to turn in the Candidate Nomination Form had already passed.
“It’s not at all possible that they would have had the signatures checked before 5 o’clock,” Lavelle said. “Even if I got in my car when Demetress left here at 4:15, if I got in my car and drove over to the registrar—which is nearby; they are very fortunately near us in San Jose—there is no possibility that I would have heard back from them in 45 minutes. That’s not possible.”