Local Government

Council Appoints Jan Flory to Fill Vacant Seat

At a special meeting on January 29th, Fullerton City Council voted 3-1 (Whitaker “no”) to appoint former Fullerton City Council member Jan Flory to fill the remaining two years of the “at-large” seat vacated when now Mayor Silva was elected to represent District 3.

Here’s a recent timeline of how the council got to this point:

At their December 18th meeting, council was deadlocked (2-2) over how to fill the vacancy, with Mayor Silva and Mayor Protem Fitzgerald supporting appointment, and council members Zahra and Whitaker favoring a special election. At that meeting, former council member Jan Flory and others began lobbying for her appointment.

Council member Zahra, who at that time favored a special election, asked rhetorically, “Is there a fairer and more transparent process than voting itself? Can we come up with something better than what the constitution came up with?”

At the January 15th meeting, council member Zahra switched his vote to favor appointment, citing the fact that the city did not have the option to do an all mail-in election.

The following day (January 16), applications for appointment were made available on the city’s web site. Applications were due on January 23rd, and 26 people applied.

On January 28, Neighbors United for Fullerton hosted an “Applicants Forum” at Library Conference Room in which applicants introduced themselves and answered questions on various city issues.

And on January 29, there was a Special City Council meeting to make the appointment.

Council member Zahra, Mayor Protem Fitzgerald, Mayor Silva, and Council Member Whitaker listen to applicants.

Before each applicant gave their opening statements, council member Zahra called the process by which council found themselves in this position “a series of unfortunate events that led to what is really an impossible decision” and that the cost of the special election was, for him, a major factor in his decision.

Council member Whitaker, who has from the beginning opposed the appointment process, said “It is with some level of protest that I do participate in this this evening. I too share the hope that there will be a supportable and just outcome to whatever actions we take.”

The City Clerk informed council that three people who submitted applications had since withdrawn.

Each of the remaining 23 applicants had three minutes to briefly introduce themselves. The diverse array of applicants included:

Sonia Carvalho, a graduate of UCLA law school whose husband Wayne has served on the Planning Commission.

Ryan Cantor, who has served on the Library Board of Trustees and the Planning Commission.

Dr. Shana Charles, a Public Health professor at CSUF who is also her Girl Scout Troop’s cookie coordinator. She recently ran for School Board but was not elected.

Ryan Alcantara, who served on the Citizens Infrastructure Review Committee (CIRC) for 8 years and has an education and public policy background.

Fred Jung, a first generation Korean-American who has lived in Fullerton for 30 years and has served on the Parks and Rec Commission.

Roberta Reid, a retired volunteer at the Senior Center who has previously run for city council.

Larry Lloyd who worked for the Taco Bell Corporation and is now the Chief Financial Officer for the Catalina Island Conservancy.

Kenneth Fuller is a prosecutor, a reservist in the JAG corps, and a business owner.

Jan Flory, who has previously served on City Council twice for a total of 12 years. She is a family law attorney and former real estate broker.

Joshua Ferguson, a retail clerk and blogger, who previously ran unsuccessfully for council and state senate, called the appointment process a “farce” and said the council could have avoided the vacancy problem if the District Elections Map had not been gerrymandered.

Arnel Dino, who works in non-profit management and grant writing and has served on the Economic Development Commission, CIRC, and the Water Rate Study Ad Hoc Committee.

Michal Pasqual, a first generation Filipino American who has worked in the public sector and higher education.

Damion Lloyd Planchon, a small business owner and commercial photographer.

Kevin Pendergraft, a president and CEO of a credit union, who has served on the Planning Commission for 6 years and with the Chamber of Commerce and Fox Theatre Board in the past.

Michael Ward, a chiropractor who has also served with the LA police department and the US Air Force, and currently serves on the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Leland Wilson, a real estate broker who has served on Fullerton City Council, Fullerton Chamber of Commerce, and the Fox Theater Foundation.

Robert Schoonmaker, a retired aerospace engineer and defense contractor.

Rudy Salazar who started his own business (CalBIT) to help commercial truck drivers understand BIT inspection rules and regulations.

Greg Sebourn, a public land surveyor who previously served on City Council for 6 years, and recently lost his council seat.

Omar Siddiqui, the lawyer for the Friends of Coyote Hills, is an engineer who serves on the Police Chief’s Advisory Committee. He also ran for congress in 2018.

Chris Gaarder works for Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do and is the Chair of the Planning Commission.

Curtis Gamble is a homeless activist, a Navy veteran, and former OCTA bus driver who serves on the Continuum of Care Board (for the homeless).

Larry Bennett is a certified financial planner and Boy Scout Leader who has previously run for city council.

Members of the public listen as applicants address the City Council.

After this, the public weighed in, with most speakers criticizing the appointment process, preferring instead a special election.

“No matter what your efforts are, and good intentions, it is impossible for an appointment to be made without unintended bias,” said Diane Vena, “That is why we need an impartial election in which everyone has a voice.”

Harry Langnbacher noted how recently the city of Orange, facing a similar decision, voted to have a special election, and not appoint a council member.

“I support an election process because I’ve lost my trust in the council to be able to make a fair choice on behalf of all 69,740 voters in Fullerton, not because you’re bad people but because you’re very very human—humans subject to biases,” said Angela Lindstrom, who criticized the fact that one applicant had lobbied for the position even before a decision had been made.

Helen Higgins said, “I can’t believe the method of filling the vacancy is up for debate. I’d expect this kind of discussion in another state that actively challenges the rights of voters or where voter suppression exists…Let’s not regress but aim forward in protecting our voting rights as American citizens. The city of Orange chose special election. The county of Orange chose special election. Why does Fullerton have to be different?”

Matthew Leslie called the process “a congenial train wreck” and said, “This is the nicest-sounding slap in the face of democracy I’ve ever experienced.”

Debra Pember spoke in favor of appointment, saying, “I have confidence in your decision tonight.”

Council Member Zahra said he found it offensive “to equate this quagmire series of unfortunate events that is no one’s fault here on this council collectively with the malicious act of voter suppression against minorities, African Americans, Latinos, and people like me.”

He said that the Library forum “was supposed to be to allow residents to be able to understand the positions of the applicants and come here and state their case and give us input on the candidates, not come and berate certain candidates who have applied. And there are some folks who I wonder if there position is really for a special election or they just hate one of the applicants.”

Following these comments, each council member wrote down on a slip of paper their top three choices, which narrowed the field of applicants to Sonia Carvalho, Jan Flory, Chris Gaarder, Fred Jung, Kevin Pendergraft, Greg Sebourn, Ryan Cantor, and Larry Bennett.

Applicant Ryan Cantor addresses the council.

Each of these people was then given a chance to answer one question from each council member. Here are the questions, and how each applicant responded.

Fitzgerald asked: Why should we choose you right now at this point in time in Fullerton?

Carvalho said she has served local governments for 26 years as a city attorney, served diverse communities, and worked collaboratively.

Cantor said he is invested in the community, and is raising his kids here. He said he’s willing to make decisions not in his best interest, but in the interest of the community.

Jung said there’s a burden to being the only non-elected member of council that would weigh heavy on his shoulders. He said he is humble, willing to cooperate and listen.

Flory said she lives in district 2, which is currently not represented on council. She said she doesn’t have a learning curve because she has developed significant relationships with staff and council members, and has served on many regional boards.

Pendergraft said he has served the community in many facets, and his background would serve him well.

Sebourn, who recently lost his seat on council, said he has some unfinished business, such as protecting our neighborhoods and working on infrastructure.

Siddiqui said his education, background, and experience, qualifications qualify him for the job.

Gaarder said he has been involved in important issues like homelessness and housing at the county level, working for supervisor Andrew Do.

Bennett said he brings the private sector experience. His background in financial services makes him well-equipped to deal with budget issues.

Applicant “finalists” line up to answer follow-up questions.

Silva asked, “What are some ways you can see addressing our road issues right now given that we have a “D” rating and we’d like to get it up to a “B”. Where do we get the extra $8-10 million we need to do that?”

All applicants said the council needs to “make it a priority” in the budget. Cantor, Flory, Sebourn, Siddiqui, and Bennet added that the city should lobby the state to get more of a fair share of taxes for infrastructure improvements.

Zahra asked, “How do you perceive your role as council member considering the tough decisions that could come upon you in working with this council, staff, and city manager?”

All applicants gave very similar answers, saying they are willing to listen, to put aside differences, and to put the residents’ interests first.

Flory added that she would “put in the work” by reading and seeking to understand staff reports and agenda items.

Whitaker asked, “Because one of the great concerns is the council could be appointing someone who could be a longer term incumbent in District 2, would you plan on running for office in 2020?”

Carvalho and Gaarder said “Yes.”

Siddiqui and Bennet said “Maybe.”

Cantor, Jung, Flory, Pendergaft, and Sebourn said “No.”

After answering these questions Mayor Silva nominated Jan Flory to be appointed to council, which was seconded by Mayor Protem Fitzgerald.

Zahra nominated Sonia Carvalho, which was seconded by Whitaker. This motion failed, with Whitaker, Silva, and Fitzgerald voting “no”.

Ultimately, council voted 3-1 (Whitaker “no”) to appoint Jan Flory, who was sworn into office that night.

After being sworn in, newly-appointed Jan Flory takes her seat on the City Council.

At the request of Mayor Protem Fitzgerald, the meeting adjourned in memory of Tom Schultz, who spent 30 years as a firefighter in Fullerton before becoming fire chief of Garden Grove, who passed away this week.

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