The 1/29/19 Fullerton Council Special Meeting was the culmination of a debate on how the council should fill a vacancy created by Mayor Silva’s transition from an at-large to District 3 elected council member in the middle of his first term. The council appointed someone to fill the 2-year seat rather than allow Fullerton’s 69,740 voters to choose their own representative.
I was disappointed by the disorganized and rushed decision-making based on misinformation that cornered us into limited options. On 1/15/19, the Council voted to fill the vacancy by appointment, rationalizing they can make a fair and unbiased appointment in less than two weeks since now there was a thoughtful and transparent process.
The council meeting material only included a city council application form. A form is not a process. At the Special Meeting, there was nearly 20 minutes of discussion amongst the council, the City Attorney and the City Manager about how to select the final candidate. Councilmember Whitaker commented he received an email proposal the night before the meeting which he had no input.
A candidate forum was held the night before the Special Meeting. Applicants were asked where they stood on various issues. Was the council selecting someone based on how they align with their own views? If so, aren’t they just exercising their own right to vote, not an unbiased appointment?
I’m skeptical this was a fair appointment process. Even before the appointment decision was made on January 15, 2019, one of the 26 applicants claimed to have two council votes and was trying to lobby a third councilmember. This is not fair nor transparent. Did each councilmember give equal time to all of the other applicants? Is it mere coincidence that this applicant was ultimately appointed by three of the four council members?
In October 2018, the council repealed an ordinance that mandated elections to fill council vacancies. This ordinance gave the council the flexibility to make an interim appointment until an election when voters can choose their representative.
Certain councilmembers rationalized that their decision to fill this vacancy by appointment was justified because voters elected them to make tough decisions like this. That is an absolute falsehood because when they were elected, the ordinance in force was to fill vacancies with elections!
As of December 2018, this council replaced that ordinance with one that gave them the discretion to make appointments in more situations, tilting the balance of power in their favor at the cost of voters right to choose for themselves.
Retired judge Frank Ochoa wrote in the Santa Barbara Independent, “Let Voters Fill Every Council Vacancy” about his city’s own dilemma. “Frederick Douglass said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.’ When the council is presented with this unfettered option, it will choose to fill the seat itself. In practical terms, all vacancies will be filled by council appointment.”
Sounds like more disappointments to come.