Fullerton residents may see a City Council vacancy filled by appointment Tuesday, when the four-member Council meets to potentially decide on one of the 25 applicants for the seat, including three former council members and the Santa Ana City Attorney.
The vacancy happened after Mayor Jesus Silva beat former Councilman Greg Sebourn for the eastern 3rd district seat, vacating Silva’s at-large seat with two years left on the term. Under state law, the Council has until Feb. 2 to either call a special election in November or appoint somebody.
Former Fullerton Council members Sebourn, Jan Flory and Leland Wilson applied for the vacancy. Santa Ana City Attorney Sonia Carvalho also applied for a spot on the dais.
Omar Siddiqui, who was a 48th Congressional District candidate until he was knocked out of the June 2018 primary election, also applied for the vacant Council seat.
Sebourn, Flory, Wilson, Carvalho and Siddiqui used the application’s 400-word essay to explain how each person could benefit the city if appointed to the Council.
But Joshua Ferguson, a Friends for Fullerton’s Future local blogger and meeting regular, used the application process to protest filling the vacancy by appointment. Ferguson has consistently pushed for an election to be held during public comment on the issue.
“In order to fill this position the council needs a majority to approve an applicant. Not the voters, mind you. The voters get short shrift here and are told that in our representative democracy it’s good enough to be told who represents them,” wrote Ferguson in the essay. “In reality, this whole process – from our gerrymandered districts to our inability to vote upon our own representation – is sad and rather pathetic.”
Ferguson, who unsuccessfully ran for Council in 2016, said his application is to draw attention to the issue.
“To make it worse here I am offering myself up as tribute. I’ m not adding my name into the veritable Goblet of Fire because I think I can win over the council or because I think I’m a good choice – I’m doing it because I want to highlight how ridiculous of a process this is in the first place,” he wrote. “I can’t get 1, let alone 3 votes from council, but neither should anybody else.”
The possibility of holding a mail-in election at an earlier date was floated at the Dec. 18 meeting, when the City Council deadlocked on the issue. That could have saved the city roughly $160,000 for an election — a Nov. 5 election could cost as high as $428,000 and the mail-in could have cost as much as $260,000.
Councilmen Ahmad Zahra and Bruce Whitaker voted for an election at the December meeting, while Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald and Silva voted for an appointment process.
But a Jan. 9 email exchange between Registrar of Voters Neal Kelly and City Manager Ken Domer said the city is too large to qualify for a mail-in election.
Zahra broke the Council deadlock at the Jan. 15 meeting when he voted to move forward with an appointment process. Zahra and Silva said their votes don’t necessarily mean they’ll appoint somebody, but said cost is a factor.
Fitzgerald pushed for an appointment because the cost of an election is too high and by the time someone gets elected, there will be only one year left on their term. She’s also said 10 months is too long to conduct business without a fifth person on the dais.
Whitaker has consistently pushed for an election, regardless of cost. He said the $480,000 is worth the election, especially since the city moved to district-based elections and this could be the last time all Fullerton voters can vote for an at-large seat. He also said an appointment could disenfranchise voters.
Fitzgerald and Silva said the cost was too high and have pointed to the road conditions in Fullerton, which are some of the worst roads in the county.
“General Fund pension costs are approximately 18% of the General Fund budget and pension costs are expected to rise to as much as 23% of the General Fund budget over the next ten years before leveling off,” the budget summary reads. The bulk of pension costs are from police and firefighter pensions.
According to reports from the California Public Employee Retirement System, the city will pay nearly $14.3 million for police and firefighter pensions, while all other eligible city employee pensions will cost the city a little over $6.2 million for the current 2018-2019 fiscal year.
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.
Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story erroneously described Santa Ana City Attorney Sonia Carvalho as leaving that position. She is not leaving. Voice of OC regrets the error.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio