Cypress is joining a growing list of Orange County cities that have faced the challenge of figuring out– whether empty seats on a city council should be filled by appointment as opposed to special elections. 

In Orange County, the answer often leaves many residents upset.

Cypress City Council leaders will tackle the issue when they meet on July 12 at 6:30 p.m. after Mayor Pro Tem Stacy Berry handed in a resignation letter at the end of last month. 

The meeting can be attended in person or streamed live via the city website.

“I would like to thank Mayor Pro Tem Berry for her years of dedicated service on behalf of Cypress,” said Mayor Jon Peat in a city news release. “We wish her the best in her new endeavors.”

City officials have 60 days to decide just how they want to fill Berry’s spot either by appointment or through a special election.

Some residents like George Pardon say the council has a clear choice of who they should pick — runner up from the November election Carrie Katsumata Hayashida.

“In November 2020, the voters clearly said that if there had been 3 Council seats open, Carrie would have been a successful candidate.  Stacy Berry’s resignation creates that 3rd spot.”

George Pardon, Cypress Resident wrote in an email to the Voice of OC.

Hayashida won about 15% of the vote in last year’s general election losing to Councilmembers Anne Hertz and Frances Marquez but beating the fourth place candidate by over 2,000 votes, according to the County’s Registrar of Voters.

Pardon himself said he voted for other candidates in the general election but said it is not about a single vote.

He also added the city council currently does not have any Asian representation despite the community accounting for about a third of the city’s population.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 35% of the city’s population is Asian.

“You have an opportunity to better represent your community from a cultural perspective and a diversity perspective, I think it’s got a lot of value to it,” Pardon said.

The council will also pick a new Mayor Pro Tem.

Berry’s resignation was effective July 5. She was not the only Mayor Pro Tem in the county to resign last month.

Huntington Beach Residents Interviewed For a Spot on The Dais

On June 1, Tito Ortiz — elected with the most votes in Huntington Beach history — abruptly resigned from his position on the council citing his family and children’s safety as one of the deciding factors as well as being targeted in the press.

Tito Ortiz at the Huntington Beach City Council meeting in December 2020. Credit: Huntington Beach City live stream

Like most cities, Huntington Beach City Council Members decided they would interview a pool of applicants to fill the seat.

[ Read:Huntington Beach to Appoint New Council Member, Reviving a Debate Other OC Cities Tackled ]

On Friday, 70 people who applied for the position were scheduled to be interviewed at a special meeting. 

The remaining applicants will be interviewed today starting at 8:30 a.m. followed by a discussion on the vacancy appointment process. 

“What I anticipate the conversation will be directed around will be the process, date and time and the meeting at which the council will deliberate and the process they’ll be using to try to identify and see — can they find consensus on one individual to appoint to the vacancy?” City Manager Oliver Chi said in a Thursday phone interview.

The council is expected to make their decision at their meeting on July 20.

Initially 190 people applied to fill the vacancy in Huntington Beach but several applicants have since withdrawn their name from consideration. Chi said 131 applicants are still in the running.

Some residents disagree with the application process and want a special election. Chi said such an election would cost the city $1 million.

“A million dollars is a lot of money and the council, from a policy perspective, has to weigh that … spend a million dollars to have the election verses the established rule of the council is supposed to appoint somebody,” Chi said.

One local Facebook group encouraged people to apply for the position even if they’re not interested just to let the council know how they feel.

At the same time the council is facing pressure from residents who keep showing up to their meetings demanding council members to appoint the runner up in the 2020 November election — Gracey Van Der Mark.

Others want Oscar Rodriguez, another candidate in last year’s general election. Rodriguez and Van Der Mark are expected to be interviewed today.

Huntington Beach on March 5, 2021. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

OC Debates Filling City Council Vacancies

The debate on how city councils should fill vacancies on the dais has played out around the county in Irvine, Fullerton and Santa Ana.

Some argue that a special election should be held to pick a new representative.

“The problem with special elections is that they’re very costly and they’re low turnout elections.”

Mike Moodian, Chapman University professor and elections expert, in phone interview a few weeks ago.

Moodian did acknowledge that from a representative democracy perspective a special election is the best way to go.

Others usually want the runner up for the previous election to fill the role. Most cities go with an appointment process.

Moodian said when it comes to appointments the council majority will look to maintain their stronghold and pick someone who will vote along the same lines as them

This kind of debate has emerged at least four times this year in not just Cypress and Huntington Beach but in Costa Mesa and Orange.

In Costa Mesa, the Mayor’s seat opened up after Katrina Foley won a special election for a spot on the Orange County Board of Supervisors. John Stephens, a former city council member, was appointed to fill the role.

In Orange, Councilman Mike Alvarez resigned from his seat after a Superior Court judge ruled he was ineligible for another term. The council appointed county employee Kathy Tavoularis in his place.

Chi said there are a lot of practical and logical reasons why city councils go with an appointment process, especially because people can vacate a seat with three years left on a term or just a month.

He added if it wasn’t for cost most people would to a special election as the better choice

“I think you probably would see more cities choose to move towards an election process if it weren’t so costly to coordinate the election and I think that’s a real consideration,” Chi said.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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