Local Government

Appointment or Special Election: How to Fill the Vacant Council Seat?

The City Council will decide how to fill the current vacancy on the council at the Tuesday, December 18th meeting. A mid-term vacancy for an at-large council seat which expires in Dec. 2020 was created by the recent election. Here are the options before council:

1) Appoint a qualified individual to fill the vacancy through the two-year remainder of the term through direct appointment or by following a process for applications and/or interviews and/or other steps. If this option was selected – Applications would be available to the public no later than December 20; Applications would be due by January 7; Public notice would have to be given no later than Jan. 10 for the appointment to take place at the Jan. 15th meeting. The appointee would serve out the remainder of the two-year term until the next general municipal election in 2020 where all at-large terms end.

2) Special Election: Direct Staff to prepare resolutions for consideration by the council at the next meeting to call a special election to fill the vacancy. If this option was selected – a special election would be called within 60 days of the vacancy and held on the next regularly established election date not less than 114 days from the call of the special election. Assuming the council calls for a special election at the January15th council meeting – the city could hold a special election no earlier than May 9, 2019. All candidates must be registered Fullerton voters at the time they pull nomination papers to run.

•Mail-In Option: Council could decide to hold a citywide mail ballot election where every Fullerton voter would receive and cast their ballot by mail. The election would be held on Tuesday, August 27, 2019. The estimated cost would be $224,055 to $260,886.

•Stand-Alone Election: Alternatively the council could opt to hold a citywide stand-alone election which operates in the same manner as a general election with established polling places. The next possible date would be Tuesday, November 5, 2019. The estimated cost is $391,532 to $428,150. The winner of the Special Election would hold the office for the remainder of the term until 2020.

3) Continue the discussion to the January 15, 2019 council meeting.



Here’s our political correspondent Vince Buck’s analysis of the situation:

Appointment vs. Special Election

by Vince Buck

The Republican majority on the Council was a bit too clever when they tried to Gerrymander the 3rd district into a Republican district (the so-called downtown bar-owners option) with an incumbent Republican member; and putting each incumbent into a separate district.

When Jesus Silva was subsequently elected and Doug Chaffee said he would not run again, they had the chance to change the lines and put Greg Sebourn into the more heavily Republican 2nd district, but that would have handed the 3rd over to a Democrat. They left the lines untouched, meaning that two incumbents might run against each other, but there was an assumption that a Republican would win in a Republican district. Due to the changing demographics, the Blue Wave and the high student turnout, the district went Democratic with Jesus Silva the easy winner (ostensibly these are nonpartisan elections, but that is not the reality).

As a result, Jesus Silva had to vacate the last two years of his at-large seat to begin his four years as a district representative

The four current members now must decide on how to fill that vacancy. The vacancy is for the remaining two years of the at large seat which will disappear — along with the other at large seats — in 2020 — to be replaced by 3 additional district representatives: District 1 in the NW of the city, District 2 in the central north and district 4 in the SW. The Council can fill that vacancy either by election) or by appointment. The current agenda packet for the Dec. 18 council meeting lays out the options for an election which might, depending on the option, take place any time after mid-May or November and cost up or more than $400,000.

While some have spoken strongly at recent council meetings about favoring an election to fill the seat, this would be a very low turnout election and not a good exercise in democracy. One reason for low turnouts in American elections is that there are so many of them; and elections at off-beat times have very low turnout. Even an expensive and high-profile election like that for the Mayor of LA, since it is held in March, only draws about 20% of registered voters. A council election in Fullerton between May and November would probably only draw a percentage in the low teens at best. A mail ballot election might have a higher return rate, but that could not take place until August when many people are out of town or have other things on their minds.

Low turnout elections do not provide a representative sample of the electorate and tend to be decided by older and more conservative voters, with fewer Hispanic and Asian voters turning out. And who would choose to spend money to run for a seat that will disappear in less than 2 years, barely one year if the election is held in November? The winner will probably be someone with deep pockets, funded by business interest with something at stake, and/or who already has high visibility. (One exception to this might be the Save Coyote Hills group which has highly motivated members and a cause – if they can get organized behind an election.)

If I were a council member I would not support an election unless I had a pretty good idea of who would be likely to win; or unless the council could not agree upon an acceptable replacement.

Rather than spend big bucks on an election and have to wait for five to 11 months for a result, I would be satisfied to see the council make the choice; although I have no idea on who the 4 sitting council members could agree. It takes three votes and there is no identifiable majority. Nominally there are now two Democrats and two Republicans on the council, so the most likely choice might be a moderate Democrat (e.g. conservative or business and development oriented), or a moderate Republican (socially liberal, fiscally conservative). However, there are other important issues in the city that cut across party lines: the future of Coyote Hills, the preservation of the Hunt Branch building, homeless shelters, police oversight, and residential development for starters.

Some individuals are actively campaigning for the seat, talking to council members. Perhaps the council will develop an application process, maybe even with a screening process. There are several qualified candidates, including several former councilmembers. Current members probably will not want to appoint someone who lives in their district and who might run against them in the future (no one currently lives in heavily Republican District 2). And an experienced former member might overshadow less experienced newer members.

This should make for interesting politics. The first round will be at the next council meeting on the 18th. If you have ideas, this would be the time to show up and voice them. We have clearly entered a new era of politics.

A final thought: there seemed to have been little or no big-money interest in the District 5 election. That may never happen again once they realize that every district representative has a vote and can be critical to their goals. Chevron, for instance, could pour money into any district and have an important impact as has been the case in the state legislature especially in Democrat v. Democrat races where they have supported the more business-friendly of the two candidates.


Categories: Local Government

1 reply »

  1. I found it interesting how you mentioned how low turnout elections do not provide a representative sample of the electorate. My son has been considering running for city council but has realized that he cannot get the position during a special election due to the low turnout of community members wanting a change. I will be sure to pass this information so he can be the best candidate for city council later in his life!