After Laguna Niguel saw its second city council resignation in just over a month, the city is expected to appoint another new member to fill the second vacancy.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday night to open another application process to appoint a new council member and fill Councilmember Sandy Rains’ vacant seat.
Council members were concerned about the cost of the special election, which could reach over $600,000, according to the staff report.
“Elections teach you things. They train you,” Councilmember Stephanie Oddo said at the meeting. “The problem is, the election is expensive. We did not choose to do that with our last vacancy.”
If the resignations were closer to each other, Oddo said she’d back a special election.
“I would have most likely promoted an election if the two council members who have recently resigned exited a little bit better. If they had cared about the residents and the residents’ voice, maybe they would have coordinated their exit like they coordinated everything up here. But they didn’t. They put us in this position. That’s how we got here.”
Rains abruptly resigned from office May 10, citing safety concerns. This came after she stepped down as mayor in February.
[Read: Another Laguna Niguel City Council Member Abruptly Resigns]
“Effective immediately I am rendering my resignation from the Laguna Niguel City Council,” she wrote. “This decision did not come lightly, however for the safety and protection of my family it is the appropriate time… I no longer feel I can effectively serve our community in this hostile environment.”
Applications opened May 17 and will close May 26.
The council is set to review applicants to interview at the June 6 meeting.
A special meeting to conduct interviews is scheduled to commence on June 14 for the appointee to be sworn in on June 20.
The appointee is expected to serve out the remainder of Rains’ term, which is over at the end of next year. The vacancy must be filled within 60 days of Rains’ resignation.
In February, Rains abruptly resigned as mayor, a largely ceremonial title, but stayed on as a council member. The resignation came after concerns surfaced that she improperly tried to fire the city manager.
Rains had called for a debate on the dismissal of City Manager Tamara Letourneau, sparking Oddo and Councilmember Ray Gennawey to publicly call for Rains’ removal.
[Read: Laguna Niguel’s Mayor Abruptly Resigns]
The council already went through this process earlier this month to fill another vacant seat.
Councilmember Rischi Paul Sharma resigned April 6. The council appointed Stephanie Winstead to fill Sharma’s seat at a meeting earlier this month. She was sworn in on Tuesday.
[Read: Laguna Niguel Looks to Fill City Council Seat by Appointment]
Winstead ran for election in 2022 but was not elected. She came in third place with 20.28% of the vote, behind Gennawey and Oddo who currently serve on the council.
“I wasn’t elected to this seat. I was appointed because of my proven dedication to you and the other residents of this city through over a decade of service to our community,” Winstead said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Multiple residents were calling for the council to appoint Jeff Von Waldburg to the current open seat, who also ran in 2022 and came in fourth place behind Winstead with 17.2% of the vote.
“He’s a family man. He’s an ivy-league educated business owner. I think he might be one of the most qualified people who have ever run for office in this city,” Laguna Niguel resident Melissa Crew said at Tuesday night’s meeting during public comment.
“If you guys ignore that, and you ignore the voices of your constituents, that’s a problem … He deserves the seat,” Crew said.
Crew, a member of the city’s Military Support Committee, said appointing Von Waldburg would be the best way to break up the “clique” on the present council.
“The reason we are sitting in this position is because they bullied and forced other members of the council out,” Crew said in a phone interview with Voice of OC Wednesday. “What I always appreciated about Rischi and Sandy was that they were asking the questions that I wanted answered, and I’m not alone in that.”
“I feel desperate to have a voice,” she continued. “I feel desperate to have somebody on that dias that is actually looking out for us.”
The appointee will be eligible to run for a full term in the November 2024 election, although Oddo said she hopes to choose an appointee that’s not running in 2024 to keep the seat open for a new member.
Applicants who applied for the previous vacancy are also eligible to reapply this time.
Another notable resignation happened in 2017 when Jerry Slusiewicz unexpectedly stepped down from his role as mayor after the council decided to hire an outside attorney to investigate claims Slusiewicz used his city office to try to influence local businesses.
During that time, Slusiewicz uncovered numerous contract overruns under the former city manager, who didn’t get city council authorization for the increased spending. He also found out a tree trimming contractor performed work on the former city manager’s house – raising ethical concerns.
The city’s investigation yielded no wrongdoing from Slusiewicz.
The council meets again on June 6 at 7 p.m.
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.
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