Council seat: “Must be present to win”Diana Jorgenson
A newly vacant seat on Portola’s City Council before the votes were even dry on two other seats brought a number of citizens to the regular meeting Nov. 10. Some of them wanted to be considered for the position; some of them wanted to know why the position had not been on the ballot. Sorting it out was a cumbersome process.
At issue were the two years remaining on Bill Kennedy’s term and whether to fill the vacancy by special election or by appointment by the council.
Council member Bill Kennedy was not present, although his resignation took effect the day following the meeting. He was in his new home in Oregon, had planned to attend his final meeting, but snowstorms in the Cascades prevented him. All four of the other members were in attendance,
Juliana Mark, high vote getter in the election, was in the audience but would not be sworn in until the election had been certified. Incumbent candidate Curt McBride had edged out his fellow incumbent by only three votes, and incumbent Mayor John Larrieu expressed his desire to pursue a council seat via Kennedy’s vacancy and recused himself from discussions.
City attorney Steve Gross explained the options: that the earliest a special election could be held would be in March and that it would cost approximately $8,000, or if the council decided to appoint, it would have to do so within 30 days. New legislation in January would extend the period to 60 days, which would match the period allowed for special districts, but current law would only give the council 30 days, or by default, it would need to hold a special election.
Council members William Weaver and Curt McBride were not in favor of spending the money. Citizen Larry Douglas disagreed: “This is an elected position, not one appointed by the city council. To me, this (appointment) is wrong … You spend money on other things. This is something you have to do, so it’s ‘by the people.’”
Mike Matus, another Portola resident, thought that the resignation so close to the election brought up the appearance of impropriety. He thought that someone who was moving must have known much further in advance.
Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wilson defended Kennedy in his absence, giving Kennedy’s reasons for wanting to be near his grandchildren, and chided Matus for making assumptions.
Gross clarified that the resignation would have had to occur 114 days prior to the Nov. 2 election in order to have been included. Anytime after that, a vacancy would have to be included in another election.
Former City Council member Mike Rush also wanted to express his interest in the position, saying that he would have run for the council this election had he known about the third seat. He wished to announce his interest in the seat, saying that as of the last election, he was the next obvious choice and had only been beaten by 16 votes.
Mayor Pro Tem Wilson agreed with his fellow members that the cost of an election was not warranted and had some other considerations to add: “If we go with a special election, it would mean being without a council member for four months and there’s problems with that. There would be opportunities for things to get pushed back, maybe 2-2 votes, it’s time when there is sickness and maybe we wouldn’t have a quorum.”
Juliana Mark asked how many members were required to make an appointment and was reassured that council members would seat her prior to making a selection, if they could work out the timetable in order to meet the deadline and if the election were certified in time.
She then spoke for appointing Larrieu because he had campaigned and “he had already put forth the effort.”
Douglas disagreed, saying that in recent elections, new candidates were always the vote getters, not the incumbents. “I think that’s a big indication of public perception.”
The council then agreed to appoint a member to the remainder of Kennedy’s term, rather than holding a special election and went through the laborious process of choosing dates that met all the criteria of public notification, time for receiving letters of interest, time to allow the last election to be certified and meeting the 30-day deadline.
It appeared that four or five residents in the audience were interested in applying for the vacancy, an interest that may or may not wane in time. But the process for them to do so was finally established. Interested Portola residents who are registered voters may submit a letter of interest to City Hall by 5 p.m. Nov. 29. The letter should include a brief biography and a statement as to why they want to serve on the council
Council members will receive copies of the letter prior to the Dec. 2 meeting to address the issue. The applicants are asked to attend the meeting, on a Thursday at 5 p.m., to read their letters to the council and for public benefit. At that meeting, Mark and McBride will also be sworn in for their terms of office, prior to deliberations on the appointment.
The council expects to swear in the newly appointed councilperson that same day, so no exceptions, you must be present to win.