The Fullerton City Council appointed former Councilwoman Jan Flory to fill a roughly two-year term after weeding through 23 applicants and despite calls by residents to hold a special election.
“The appointment route, I felt that we owed it to our residents to have a full Council and to help us move forward. Sometimes a criticism of government is that we take too long to do things and … I felt that having a full Council would allow us to expedite that and do a full service to this community,” Mayor Jesus Silva said after Tuesday’s special meeting.
The 3-1 vote appointing Flory came after a December deadlock over holding a special election or appointing someone. The idea of holding a mail-in election was floated at the Dec. 18 meeting, but died at the Jan. 15 meeting after city officials learned the city is too large to hold a mail-in election. Councilman Bruce Whitaker, who was the sole holdout for a special election, voted against Flory’s appointment.
Flory said it’s time to get some stability back in the city after a series of controversies.
“Our city has been in a bit of disarray, one with the transition from at-large elections to district elections. Second our police chief was a lot more temporary than we thought he was going to be and it is my objective to calm things down and to get back to more of a routine with our City Council,” Flory said after the meeting.
The City transitioned to district elections after voters decided to switch from at-large to district elections in 2016. The 2016 ballot question stemmed from a settlement of two lawsuits that claimed at-large voting disenfranchised minority voters.
Former Police Chief David Hendricks resigned Nov. 2, following an alleged fight with emergency medical technicians at an Aug. 24 concert in Irvine. Captain Thomas Oliveras was also involved in the alleged fight. Hendricks and Oliveras were charged Dec. 7 by the District Attorney’s office for fighting paramedics and obstructing police officers.
The Council vacancy happened after Silva beat former Councilman Greg Sebourn for the eastern District 3 seat in November, leaving his at-large seat vacant with roughly two years left on its term. Councilman Ahmad Zahra, representing the southeastern District 5, and Silva are the first to be elected through the district election system. Although District 3 wasn’t originally slated to be on the ballot, the City Council changed its mind in March 2017 and switched from having the Northern District 2 on the ballot to District 3, which is where Sebourn and Silva live. The switch drew criticism from former Mayor, now County Supervisor, Doug Chaffee and residents.
Since December, most people who spoke during public comment about the vacancy issue urged the Council to call a special election, regardless of the cost. But there was also a sizeable amount of residents who said the estimated $428,000 for an election was too high and waiting until November was too long.
In order to thin out the pool of applicants, the Council decided each of the four members should write down three names they wanted to nominate on a piece of paper. Whitaker and Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald each added one more name to their lists.
Flory, along with Santa Ana City Attorney Sonia Carvalho, appeared on each council member’s list but Whitaker’s.
Whitaker asked the candidates if they plan to seek election in 2020. Flory said no, while Carvalho said yes. Both live in District 2. Leading up to Fullerton’s transition to district elections in 2015 and 2016, Flory said she wasn’t going to run again and her name was not on the 2016 ballot.
“I applied for the Council vacancy because so many in the community asked me to apply,” Carvalho told Voice of OC. “If the council had indicated that they weren’t going to appoint anyone from District 2 as a disqualifier, I probably wouldn’t have applied. There are a lot of us from District 2, some of us are a little more honest in our intentions to possibly run in two years.”
At least five other finalists — those named on council members’ lists — were from District 2.
After Silva moved to appoint Flory, Zahra made a substitute motion to appoint Carvalho and although Whitaker seconded his motion, Zahra was the lone vote to appoint Carvalho to the Council.
Leading up to Flory’s appointment, some council members blamed state law for not being able to change the election date, which would have been Nov. 5. The Council also said County Supervisors should have adopted the 2016 California Voter’s Choice Act, which would have allowed for a mail-in election, regardless of population size. The act has been adopted by Madera, Napa, Nevada, Sacramento and San Mateo counties. The act also allows early in-person voting and allows people to vote at any polling place in their county.
Zahra proposed sending the state Legislature a letter to petition for “our choice for setting our own dates at our convenience.”
“I also would like to send a similar letter to our County for not adopting the Voter’s Choice Act which would’ve given us the option of an all mail-in ballot — something I thought we had in the first session (December meeting),” Zahra said.
The Council agreed with Zahra’s letter proposals and also agreed to discuss creating an election fund so the Council doesn’t have to worry about cost when faced with a vacancy situation in the future.
“So that money is not an obstacle any more or an excuse. This way we protect, at least, the future,” Zahra said.
The November election could have cost as high as $428,000 and the mail-in could have cost as much as $260,000.
The Orange City Council faced a similar situation on its vacancy. The Council voted Jan. 23 to move forward with a Nov. 5 special election, the OC Register reported. It’s expected to cost the city more than $400,000.
Silva and Fitzgerald said the cost was too high, especially since Fullerton roads are in terrible condition.
At nearly every city council meeting, at least one resident reminds the Council of the road conditions during general public comment.
The city is spending roughly $8 million on road repairs this budget cycle, which is expected to bring its pavement score from 64.7 to 67.7 in the fiscal year 2019-2020. The pavement score rates the conditions of roads in the city. An additional $1.5 million annual spending will be required to maintain the 67.7 score level.
All the finalists were asked what they can do about roads.
Many said the city should strategically prioritize spending to improve roads and cut excess spending in other areas, while others said the City should be lobbying the County and State harder for more road repair funds. Carvalho said the City is going to have to find additional revenue, citing La Habra’s increased sales tax.
“I don’t know if you’ve been watching how they handle the homeless issues, but the County is not going to be very generous with their money,” Carvalho said, adding they need to make it a high priority.
“You cannot put it off. We are at grade D for a reason, because it was put off. So how are we going to solve it? We’re going to have to raise revenue … if you think you’re going to fix the roads without finding additional revenue, then our roads are not going to get fixed,” Carvalho said.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio
Katie Licari is a Voice of OC spring intern.