Democracy Requires an Election to Fill Irvine City Council Vacancy


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[Ed. Note: When I read a Facebook post related to this emerging situation in Irvine, and then read the full piece in Melissa Fox’s blog, I asked for and was granted the right to reprint it here.  I’ll probably have my own additional thoughts on it tomorrow. because I have somewhat darker suspicions about what’s going on than you will find here.  I think that something may be rotten in the land of beige.  The color below, and the emphasis of people’s names, comes from me; the “I” refers to Melissa Fox, whose views this reflects. — GAD]

When Irvine Mayor Donald Wagner took office as an Orange County Supervisor, Mayor Pro Tem Christina Shea automatically took his place as Mayor.

As a result, there is now a vacancy on the Irvine City Council.

Democracy requires an election rather than an appointment to fill this vacancy.

According to law, a vacancy on the Irvine City Council can be filled by appointment by the remaining four members of the Council or by election by the vote of all the residents of Irvine.

Even if the City Council appoints a new member, the people can still override that appointment and demand an election by filling a petition signed by seven percent of the voters of the City.

Some argue that precedent and financial concerns support appointing the third-place runner-up in the previous election to the open seat on the Irvine City Council, rather than holding an election in which the people will choose the person to serve as their representative.

In fact, neither precedent nor principle support an appointment over the people’s choice as determined by an election.

Since the incorporation of Irvine as a City in 1971, there have been three times that a vacancy needed to be filled for a councilmember.

In the first instance, on October 15, 1985, Ralph A. “Ray” Catalano, a professor at UCI and a former planning commissioner, was appointed to serve the remaining three years of Councilmember David Sills term when Sills resigned from the Council to become a superior court judge.

Significantly, Catalano was not the next highest vote-getter in the previous election.  Catalano was not even a candidate in that election and had never run for office. The person who was the next highest vote-getter in the previous election, Mary Ann Gaido, was not appointed to the open seat. Catalano later explained that he was a political compromise choice and was picked by Sills as his successor.

That is the only time that the Irvine City Council has used an appointment by Councilmembers rather than an election by the people to fill a vacancy on the Council.  In every other case of a vacancy on the City Council, the seat has been filled by a vote of the people in a special election.

Our very first Irvine City Council election was a special election, held on December 21, 1971, when Irvine residents approved the City charter.

On November 6. 1990, a special election was held to fill the vacancy on the City Council when Councilmember Sally Anne Sheridan was elected Mayor the previous June. The next highest vote-getter from the previous election – again it was Mary Ann Gaido – was not appointed.  Bill Vardoulis, who had not run in the prior election, entered that race and won that special election.

On November 3, 1992, a special election was held to fill the vacancy on the City Council when Councilmember Art Bloomer resigned with two years remaining in his term.  The next highest vote getter from the year of Bloomer’s election – and it was again Mary Ann Gaido — was not appointed. Greg Smith won that special election.

Additional special elections have also been called numerous other times for various reasons, such as voting on charter amendments, measures and ordinances.

In fact, in the history of municipal elections in Irvine, special elections seem to be the rule rather than the exception.

Third-place candidates have been elected to the City Council under Measure A, which was adopted by the voters in 1991.

Measure A provides in that in City Council elections where one of the sitting Councilmembers is running for Mayor, the voters can cast three ballots for candidates for the office of City Council, so that “if a council member whose term of office has not yet expired is elected to the office of Mayor, the vacancy in the office of that Councilmember shall be filled by the candidate for Councilmember receiving the third highest number of votes.”

So far, this situation has happened four times.

On June 7, 1988, third-place City Council candidate Cameron Cosgrove was elected when Larry Agran was elected Mayor.

On November 7, 2000, third-place City Council candidate Beth Krom was elected when Larry Agran was elected Mayor.

On November 2, 2004, third-place City Council candidate Sukhee Kang was elected when Beth Krom was elected Mayor.

On November 4, 2008, third-place City Council candidate Larry Agran was elected when Sukhee Kang was elected Mayor.

Our current situation is very different from those cases.

In those cases, the voters were given the explicit opportunity to vote for three candidates for City Council.

As a result, the third-place candidate gained his or her seat on the City Council directly and democratically through the knowing vote of the people, not by appointment based on coming in third when the voters only had the choice of two.

Indeed, as I have shown, our City has NEVER appointed a Councilmember based on a third-place or next-highest finish in a previous election.

Some have argued that we should use this method of appointment – which we’ve never used before – simply in order to save the money that would need to be spent on an election.

First, it should be noted that other local cities are conducting special elections for councilmembers that could easily be coordinated by the Orange County Registrar with our own, thereby reducing the cost of the election.

Most importantly, however, I believe that democracy is worth the cost.

Democracy is far from perfect.

Many of us are convinced that we could pick better officials than those the people elect.

But that is not what our nation is about.

We elect our officials as our representatives; they are not appointed over us.

Democracy is messy, inefficient, and, yes, sometimes expensive.

In the words of Winston Churchill, “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

I agree.

We should fill the vacant seat on the City Council with the choice of the people as determined by an election.

UPDATE:

On Wednesday, April 3, 2019, the Irvine City Council officially declared a vacancy on the Council.

I have been informed by the city’s attorney and the city manager this declaration “starts the clock” regarding the process of filling the vacant council seat. We now have 60 days from April 3, 2019, to come to an agreement on the appointment of a new Councilmember or there will be an election.

Residents have 30 days from April 3, 2019, to file a petition signed by seven percent of Irvine’s registered voters to require an election regardless of what the council does.

Please attend the next Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 9, at approximately 3:00 p.m. to make sure your voices are heard.


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"Admin" is just editors Vern Nelson, Greg Diamond, or Ryan Cantor sharing something that they mostly didn't write themselves, but think you should see. Before December 2010, "Admin" may have been former blog owner Art Pedroza.