Irvine City Council Will Attempt Complicated Appointment Process to Fill Vacant Council Seat

JESSICA RUIZ, Voice of OC

The Irvine City Council photos on a. wall in the Civic Center shows an open spot vacant in April 2019.

Irvine City Council members are looking at filling a vacancy on the dais through a complicated appointment process in an effort to avoid a special election that’s still on the table, though it could be costly, according to city officials.

“It’s new territory,” said Irvine Mayor Christina Shea in a Wednesday phone interview. “The city has not moved through this detailed a process before.”

That process approved 3-1 by council members Tuesday, with Councilwoman Melissa Fox opposed, will apparently not include ranked choice voting, a method of appointing an applicant through a point system that was proposed by city staff earlier this month but got pushback from Fox over possible illegality since someone could be appointed without a majority vote .

“We understood there was pushback,” Shea said Wednesday on ranked choice voting. “I wouldn’t want to create the illusion that we’re not doing anything that’s transparent.”

The process will instead have council members narrow the field of applicants in a public setting through a process of interviews and consideration. Council members will first choose their top four candidates from the initial applicant pool, and each candidate in a random order will be given 15 minutes to interview with the Council and public.

Then each council member will narrow their preferred candidates to around two or three, if the applicant pool is even that large. The council will then hold a simple yes-or-no vote on each finalist candidate in a random order. The candidate that receives three votes will be appointed.

But what happens if more than one candidate receives more than three votes is something Shea said she hadn’t considered.

“That’s a good point, I never thought about that,” Shea said, adding that she “wouldn’t think” more than one candidate would get such a council consensus.

“If there was a tie, I would suggest that we” put this back on the agenda, “have another interview with those that tied, and have another vote.”

The last time the Council can hold an appointment vote without a special meeting is May 28, according to City Attorney Jeffrey Melching. If the Council cannot come to a consensus on a single candidate after that, the City will be forced to hold a special election, which is estimated by city officials to cost somewhere between $820,000 and $900,000.

Fox on Tuesday voiced her opposition to appointing a candidate entirely, instead advocating for a special election.

“It’s clear that this council is going through a lot of hoops — gymnastics — to avoid a locked up council. It is divided. We don’t have a consensus candidate.”

Irvine joins three other Orange County cities — Fullerton, Orange, and Santa Ana — that have recently grappled with the same issue.

Orange council members decided to hold a special election for its vacancy and Fullerton decided to appoint Jan Flory, who last served on the Council in 2016. In both cities, there was disagreement between the dais and public as to how to fill the vacancies.

At a three-hour special meeting on March 22, Santa Ana City Council members couldn’t get the votes for any of the six applicants for the Ward 4 seat left vacant when former Councilman Roman Reyna resigned amid the possibility of a civil trial on election fraud allegations.

The council voted to instead hold a special election in November for the seat.

Members of the public also showed up to Tuesday’s Irvine City Council meeting to advocate for a special election, including Chapman election law professor Kenneth Stahl, who told the Council that choosing not to hold a special election due to financial constraints is a question of “what your priorities are.”

“Is there any higher priority for a city than democratically electing your leaders?”

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC intern. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.