Johnson-Norris: The People of Irvine Deserve to Choose Their Next Council Member

As a result of the March special election for OC Board of Supervisors, there is now a vacant seat on the Irvine City Council. Former Mayor Don Wagner vacated his seat to join the Board of Supervisors, and former Mayor Pro-Tem Christina Shea became Mayor based on a council vote in February that went unnoticed by most Irvine residents.

Irvine voters did not get to choose who their next Mayor was. We should have a say in who represents us on the council as the electoral process is the core of our Democracy. The next City Council member should be elected by Irvine residents, not hand-picked by big developers or special interest groups in a backroom deal.

On April 9, the Irvine City Council voted to move forward on appointing a new Council member, although the exact process was not determined. Opponents of a special election, which is projected to cost anywhere from $800,000 – 950,000, argued the cost would be too high for the City to afford. Some argued Irvine is operating at a deficit and cannot afford the expense, or that emergency services and public safety would be impacted.

The cost of a special election was specifically addressed April 15 at the Finance Commission meeting reviewing the new budget. A special election would be charged to a Contingency Reserve Fund, a fund the City uses for extraordinary events, similar to how the County paid for the special election in March. This allows the voters to be confident the costs of a special election will not impact the city’s finances. The fact is, the new budget for the City is balanced – before and after any special charges.

Irvine is the largest city in Orange County that still has a 5 member council and elects at large, meaning 20% of the council could be determined without a vote of the people. Huge issues will be coming up for this council, including a new two-year budget proposal and millions of dollars of public funding allocated without the people having a say in one of their representatives.

Irvine residents deserve better than the hijacking of our democratic processes. Democracy isn’t free and we are willing to make sure that voters decide the future of our city, not the friends of current council members.

We know in our gut and what the political science shows is that leaders who are elected are more accountable and responsive to voters than those who are appointed. Elected leaders have greater incentive to listen to their constituents and vote for what the public supports. The further away a leader is from residents’ votes, the less accountable they are to them. Instead, they listen to and follow the wishes of those who appointed them.

I believe this vacant seat belongs to the residents of Irvine and I support a vote of the people. Whoever wins the special election will be the choice of the voters and beholden only to them.

Lauren Johnson-Norris is an Attorney, the Chair of the Irvine Community Services Commission, and a 15 year resident of Irvine.

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Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org