A majority of Mission Viejo’s City Council will be kicked out of office at the end of this month unless the California Court of Appeal steps in after an Orange County Superior Court Judge upheld his earlier deadline for the council members to resign on Sept. 30.
Mayor Wendy Bucknum and Councilmen Ed Sachs and Greg Raths are being removed from office for improperly extending their terms in 2020, and were set to hold onto their positions for two extra years until Mission Viejo resident Michael Schlesinger sued them and won last month.
Those council members can run for office again in November, and are all listed on the ballot, but can’t serve in any official capacity until after the election.
The only way to avoid that was if the city managed to get a stay from the California Court of Appeals, which the city hasn’t asked for yet but is expected to in the coming days.
Mission Viejo City Attorney Bill Curley said he wasn’t interested in filing a writ of relief – an expedited process that would put the issue in front of the court immediately – and instead wanted to pursue a full appeal.
Lee Fink and Aaron Hand, Michael Schlesinger’s attorneys, argued that Curley couldn’t file an appeal because it would take too long, and pushed him to file for a writ.
On Tuesday morning, Judge Walter Schwarm said the city could choose to file for a writ or a full appeal, but that either way the councilmembers were out by the end of the month if they didn’t have a decision from the appellate court.
“I thought it was somewhat clear, but not clear enough I guess,” Schwarm said at the Tuesday hearing. “Unless the California Court of Appeal issues a stay, the court order will go into effect.”
Right now, the city council is planning on handing over the majority of operations to city manager Dennis Wilberg at the end of this month, with plans to discuss the exact parameters of his new power at the council’s September 27 meeting.
Bucknum, Sachs and Raths were elected to two year terms in 2018, with plans to have the entire city council on the 2020 ballot with the implementation of a process called cumulative voting after they were told they couldn’t continue with the city’s at-large voting process.
However, that never happened after multiple California Secretaries of State told the city that cumulative voting isn’t an approved voting method by the state for Mission Viejo.
While the terms were advertised as two-year terms, the city council and Curley argued that because they made no changes to the voting system, those seats now applied as four year terms, granting the seated council members an extra two years in office until Schwarm overruled that decision last month.
At the Tuesday hearing, Schwarm canceled the planned status conference on the case for Sept. 26, meaning the next time it’s discussed will likely be at the council’s September 27 meeting.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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