Gene James’s resignation creates yet another vacancy on the San Clemente City Council. His unexpected departure is the best thing for him and the city, but I worry what this opening will mean for San Clemente families, small businesses, and our dedicated city staff. It is essential that we put the needs of our residents first.
Appointing his replacement – rather than paying for a costly special election – is the responsible choice. Not only does an appointment save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it’s an opportunity to show our residents that city leaders can reach across party lines, find honest compromise, and get things done. It’s the right message to send our community and the right tone to set for the coming years.
Some have suggested holding a special election, but that would be an unnecessary expense and delay that we simply cannot afford. Moreover, it would only exacerbate the divisive politics that we must move beyond.
You don’t need to look very far to see the evidence. In 2019, San Clemente held a costly special election for an unscheduled vacancy, and it nearly tore our city apart. Two very divisive candidates ran aggressive campaigns featuring national political issues, and the resulting effect on our council was not a positive one.
The very next year in 2020, another unscheduled vacancy brought the council back down to four. Having seemingly learned its lesson, the council didn’t even bother filling the vacancy, instead operating one member down until the next General Election. Our city paid the price for that, too, since the deadlocked council failed to come to a consensus on several important agenda items and virtually paralyzed city operations for more than a year.
The failures of our past are the best argument for a different approach this go-around. It’s time to appoint a qualified, hardworking consensus-builder who will work collaboratively and reach across the aisle. The next councilmember should be someone who isn’t entrenched in city politics, but instead someone who will bring a fresh perspective and a sense of professionalism to the council. It should be someone who can find common ground and negotiate a compromise, not further divide us by pursuing a partisan agenda.
The caustic tone of our city’s past political rhetoric inflicts lasting damage to our reputation. It makes it harder to attract businesses, harder to recruit and retain staff, and has a chilling effect on people who might have good ideas but are too afraid to share them. That’s why at my State of the City address last week, I declared an end to “the Real City Council of Orange County.” We cannot afford to let divisive, chaotic politics of the past derail our progress.
San Clemente is a city with a bright future, but in order to realize that future, we must face our challenges head-on. Our city is focused on saving our beaches and managing landslides that threaten historic properties like Casa Romantica. We’re focused on keeping our city safe and clean, and effectively addressing the epidemic of homelessness. And we’re focused on helping our local businesses grow and thrive. We need all hands on deck to fix these problems and get us moving in the right direction.
We simply cannot afford to hit the pause button in San Clemente. Not at this critical juncture with a brand-new City Manager and City Attorney, and a laundry list of urgent problems that need solving now. We must keep San Clemente moving in the right direction by making a swift and transparent appointment to this critical office and come together as a city working towards a common goal: keeping San Clemente a wonderful place to live, work, and play.
Chris Duncan is the Mayor of San Clemente. He is a former federal prosecutor and Homeland Security attorney. He lives in the Talega neighborhood of San Clemente with his wife, Haley, and his three children, Brooke (12), Olivia (10), and Rico (7).
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