Archives for category: 2016 Elections

The empty seat on the Fullerton City Council should be filled by election, not by appointment.

Diane Vena

(Reprinted from the Fulleton Observer and the Voice of OC)

When Jesus Silva was sworn in as the District 3 Fullerton City Council Member at the December 4 City Council meeting, he vacated the remaining two years of his at-large seat on the Council.  At the December 18 meeting, the new City Council should schedule a special election for the Fullerton voters to determine who will fill the remaining two years of his at-large seat rather than appoint his replacement.

On November 6, a majority on the Council approved a change to the Fullerton Municipal Code that no longer requires a special election to fill a vacancy on the City Council. The revised code still allows for a special election, but it also now gives the Council the power to appoint a council member for the second half of a four-year term without an election.

Residents who were able to attend that Council meeting while the polls were still open on election night, spoke in opposition to this change and expressed concerns that the Council was making this change just in time so that it could appoint a replacement if Silva won his bid for District 3.

Council Member Fitzgerald dismissed the residents’ concerns saying, “We are not having that debate (about whether the Council will appoint a replacement).” She and Council Member Whitaker each stated that the change was simply to align with a new state law – enacted in 2015.

But Fullerton’s code prior to the Council’s changes, last updated in 2011, was not out of synch with the latest version of California Government Code 36512. While the state law does allow a city council to appoint a replacement for the second half of a council member term without a special election, it does not require a city to adopt that option. Section (c)(1) explicitly states that “a city may enact an ordinance that requires that a special election be called immediately to fill every city council vacancy.”

When this important decision comes before the Council on December 18, the argument in favor of appointing will likely be that the cost of holding a special election is too much. When City staff introduced the ordinance at the October 16 meeting to change the code, they estimated a cost of $391,532- $428,150 to run a special election and $224,055 – $260,866 for an all-mail ballot election, which the City might be able to hold if it meets specific criteria in Elections Code Section 4005.

But how much is “too much” when the rights of voters to determine one of five people to represent a city of 130,000 for two years is at stake?

When the Council considers what our voting rights are worth, hopefully it will also consider the opportunities at which it failed to avoid the potential need to fill a council vacancy during the transition to by-district elections. The Council made the decision that created the potential for this vacancy when it chose to place District 3 on the ballot in 2018 knowing that there were two current council members residing in that district and that both would likely run and if the more recently elected was to win, he would have to vacate his at-large seat.

If the Council then argues that it had to put District 3 on the ballot in 2018 to “be fair” to Council Member Sebourn who, upon nearing the end of his at-large term in 2018, would otherwise not be able to run for re-election in his district, that problem was also created by the Council. In August of 2016 it chose the district boundaries. To avoid placing then Council Members Chaffee and Sebourn both in District 2, it approved a map that cut-out a small segment of District 2 to put Council Member Sebourn into his own district, District 3, where no other council member lived until Silva was elected in November 2016.

Voting rights are priceless and should not be taken away to fix any of the problems the Council created. We elect a council member to be one and only one representative on the Council. Making an appointment would give the council members more representation than they rightfully have. The Council makes important decisions that have far-reaching and long-lasting effects on all who live in Fullerton. Those decisions should only be made by voter-elected representatives.

It is unfortunate that when Fullerton is trying to increase voter representation on the Council through a change to district elections, there is now a move to decrease it, which is what would occur if an appointment rather than a special election is used to fill the vacancy on the Fullerton City Council.

Dan-Hughes-at-Podium

Chief Dan Hughes, blocking oversight of our department, with the consent of a majority of our own city council.

Fullerton’s latest Chief of Police Dan Hughes officially left his post on Thursday afternoon, sent off in a hail of glory by officers of the force and other well-wishers gathered in front of the police station. He will become Vice President of Security for the Disney Resort, a job well suited to a man paid to keep the public in the dark about the activities of his department.*

Unabashedly lauded by admirers, one of whom went to the extreme of posting professional signs around town urging his permanent hiring by the council four years ago, Chief Hughes nonetheless left many unhappy with his adamant refusal to accept reasonable public oversight of his department in the aftermath of the horrific beating of homeless man Kelly Thomas by officers of the force. His decision to retain three of the six officers involved did not seem consistent with perceived efforts to bring greater accountability to the troubled department.

Supporters of Dan Hughes like to point out that he addressed most of the recommendations made in the report commissioned by Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review (OIR), who are also now under contract with the city to periodically review the FPD’s reports. However, Dan Hughes and the Fullerton City Council never really addressed the final, and arguably most important, recommendation by the OIR, to establish credible independent oversight of the department. Instead of an appointed Civilian Police Commission to oversee our own police department, we got a “Chief’s Advisory Council,” hand-picked by Chief Hughes himself. No notices, agendas, or minutes of their meetings have ever been made available to the public. Reports of the meetings only come in the form of cheerleading statements made by its members during the public comment periods of city council meetings. Hardly the sort of oversight that would have reviewed the case of a Fullerton Police Detective accused of threatening a crime victim and coercing sex from her that resulted in a $ 550,000.00 out of court settlement on the Chief’s watch.

The lack of formal Police Commission with the critical power to conduct its own investigations can be sharply felt now in the aftermath of City Manager Joe Felz’s car accident last week that allowed him to walk away after a phone call was placed to the outgoing Chief Dan Hughes. The City Council will meet in closed session on Tuesday, November 15, to discuss the situation as a personnel matter pertaining to Mr. Felz, but we have no way at all of knowing what happened in the early morning hours of November 9. The city’s contract with OIR does not cover such investigations, leaving no other independent body to provide a report where an otherwise inherent conflict of interest exists between the City Manager’s office and the appointment of an interim Police Chief to temporarily replace Dan Hughes. (FPD Captain John Siko has been named  to the position).

The lack of transparency is in keeping with the decision by Chief Hughes to sidestep the improved communication with the pubic recommended by the Gennaco Report. Instead, we were treated to occasional open houses at police headquarters and a hack public relations firm paid with our tax dollars to regurgitate positive stories about the FPD back to us in a complicit OC Register and on a website called Behind the Badge.

The election of a new member to the Fullerton City Council prior to the hiring of a permanent Chief of Police offers a fortuitous opportunity to add actual police oversight, to be discussed in a future story.

 

*His hiring by Curt Pringle uber-client Disney, while serving under one of Pringle & Associates’ Vice Presidents, Fullerton Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald, might give one pause to reflect.

All 79 precinct votes counted, the Orange County Registrar of Voters reports the following results for the contest for three seats on the Fullerton City Council:

ocvote2016citycouncil

More of the same(ish)

Lobbyist mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald was re-elected with the most votes, followed by second place finisher Bruce Whitaker.

Third place went to Jesus Silva, but results are preliminary because not all absentee ballots have been counted. In both 2010 and 2012 post-election night absentee ballot counts moved a candidate up into a winning position, displacing a candidate who appeared to have been successful on election night.  Jesus Silva leads Larry Bennett by a relatively comfortable margin of 779 votes. It will be difficult for Larry Bennett to overcome this deficit, but late absentee ballots generally favor conservative voters.

Larry Bennett was the choice of the establishment axis that gave him the support of retiring incumbent Jan Flory, and Councilmember Doug Chaffee both of whom declined to endorse Jesus Silva.

ocvote-measure-ii

Measure ii has passed, cursing the city with a horrible districts elections map until at least the next census in 2020.

More on the implications of the election later.

 

 

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