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After a two-month battle on how to fill former City Councilman Tito Ortiz’s vacancy, the Huntington Beach City Charter may soon change.

The debate on city council vacancies has played out in cities all across Orange County several times in recent years and is now leading Huntington Beach officials to rethink how to handle openings on the dais.

“I think that with Mr. Ortiz’s resignation, we found some big holes that no one had ever thought of in the charter,” said Councilman Dan Kalmick at the meeting.

City council members voted Tuesday, 6-0 to create a citizen charter review commission to revise the city charter including the part on council vacancies. Councilman Erik Peterson was absent.

Councilman Mike Posey initially proposed an ad-hoc committee be formed to review the charter, but changed it to a citizens commission to be more transparent, which one man pointed out in public comment.

“This is the people’s document so it should be composed of citizens,” Posey said.

The decision to create the review commission comes after a roughly two month debate on how to fill the seat of Ortiz, who resigned from the council in June — leaving more than three years of his term up for grabs.

Residents at the July 19, 2021 Huntington Beach City Council meeting. Credit: LUPITA HERRERA, Voice of OC

Some residents pushed for the 2020 November election runner-up and controversial figure, Gracey Van Der Mark, to be appointed or for a special election that would have cost the city between $885,000 and $1 million.

For a while it looked like a special election was imminent after the council hit a stalemate on picking one of the applicants vying for office at their July 19th meeting.

A week later, Councilwoman Barbara Delgleize — who at one point supported a special election — sided with Councilmembers Natalie Moser, Dan Kalmick and Mayor Kim Carr in appointing Rhonda Bolton to replace Ortiz, becoming the first Black woman on the council.

Bolton supported the review commission.

“It is just a matter of good governance, to review a charter or constitution type document on a regular basis because things can change and evolve,” she said.

Some people during public comment Tuesday congratulated and welcomed Bolton, voiced support for the council and their decision to follow the charter and avoid the cost of a special election — with some giving a special shoutout to Delgleize.

Others at public comment criticized the council and accused them of making a “backroom deal” to put Bolton on the dais, vowing to get signatures for a recall of councilmembers.

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Bolton was appointed just days before the decision would go to a special election by default and some at the meeting booed Delgleize for supporting Bolton’s appointment.

The current city charter dictates that a vacancy will be filled by a council appointment and if council members can’t do so in 60 days then it will go to a special election.

The review commission will bring recommended charter revisions to council members for a vote.

If the council approves the updates, Huntington Beach voters will get the ultimate say on the proposed charter revisions.

“Whatever happens to the charter, is ultimately decided at the ballot box. It’s not decided by the six or seven of us that are here. We may not even be involved in the charter review commission, since it’s going to be citizen driven,” Posey said. 

The City Manager Oliver Chi is expected to bring back discussion on what the composition and make up of the commission will look like at the August 17 City Council meeting.

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

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