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Santa Rosa seeks applicants for council vacancy

Susan Gorin

PD FILE, 2009
Published: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 7:17 a.m.

The six current members of the Santa Rosa City Council aren't wasting any time working to appoint someone to fill the remaining two years of Susan Gorin's term.

The council on Tuesday declined to hold a costly special election in June or November or to fill the vacancy by appointing the next highest vote getter from the past election.

Instead, they opted to begin immediately soliciting applications from members of the public interested in the post, fast-tracking the process to get the seat filled as quickly as possible.

"We're flying with maybe half a wing here," said Councilman Jake Ours. "We need to make sure the council is all seven members. I want to get it done as soon as possible."

The application period opens Thursday and closes 12 days later, Jan. 22, at 5:30 p.m. Public interviews are scheduled for Jan. 28 and 29, with the council hoping to appoint someone at its Feb. 5 meeting.

The council is scheduled to have its biennial goal-setting session on Feb. 14 and 15, where the council's priorities are outlined. Some council members stressed a desire to have the new council member seated by then.

The council unanimously agreed that the cost and delay involved in a special election made it an unwise choice. Estimates are that an election would cost taxpayers between $167,000 and $292,000, and that it couldn't happen before June or November.

That left the question of whether the seat should just go to the next highest vote getter from the previous election.

Resident Elizabeth Gatley said that would be the "most cost-effective and fair thing" for the council to do. In addition to saving time and money, it would honor the will of the voters, and "save us from the unfair thing of letting the council just appoint someone," she said.

"It's a publicly elected seat and residents of Santa Rosa should have a say in who gets to have that seat," Gatley said.

But there was little support on the council for that approach, either.

The top four vote getters in November were elected to four-year terms on the council. They were Ernesto Olivares, Julie Combs, Erin Carlstrom and Gary Wysocky, in that order.

Mayor Scott Bartley said the fifth place finisher wasn't clearly favored by voters over the next candidate. Restaurateur Don Taylor, who has run unsuccessfully for council four times, received only 17 more votes than sixth-place finisher Caroline Bañuelos.

"I don't feel the voters gave me a clear mandate that there is another person who is right there that they would have voted for," Bartley said.

That left the council with little else to do but follow the appointment process used when three-term councilman Mike Martini resigned in 2007 to focus on his Sebastopol wine business.

There will be one key difference, however. In 2007, some council members were so concerned that the person the appointed would later enjoy the advantage of incumbency that they required applicants to promise not to run in 2008.

Board of Public Utilities member Carol Dean made that pledge, was appointed, broke the pledge 10 months later, and voters ousted her in 2008. Given that history, Bartley said it made no sense to try to require such a pledge this time around.

"I think it's ridiculous," he said of the idea.

He noted that he and Ours will be the only current council members potentially running in 2014 along with the new appointee.

Notices of the application process will be published not only in The Press Democrat but other media as well, including the city's website.

Appointees will have to fill out a nine-part questionnaire, with broad questions such as why they want the job, what they think the two most pressing issues facing the city are, and whether they have any business relationships that might create conflicts of interest.

Residents will be able to submit their own questions to City Clerk Terri Griffin, who will pass them along to the City Council members for consideration during the interview process. Those will be due Jan. 22, as well.

Applicants will also have to file a nomination form with the signatures of 20 registered voters, something all council candidates had to do to qualify for the ballot.

Ours said he supported requiring the signatures because "the person that wants this job should put some effort into it."

Application packets will be available from the city clerk's office in City Hall beginning Thursday. The interview process later in the month will also be fully public and televised.

One former council candidate, Mike Cook, attended the Tuesday council meeting. The landscape architect and father of two young daughters dropped out of the race in September when it was clear he wasn't getting the financial backing or endorsements he sought from the business community. Cook said he would be applying for the seat.

Taylor, who also attended the meeting, said he wasn't sure whether he would apply given the council's decision not to appoint him as the next highest vote getter.

He noted he has a "stellar resume" of business success and community involvement, but said it's possible the council is looking "to get someone fresh and new."

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. OnTwitter @citybeater

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