The Council in December, by a 4-0 vote, determined that they will go forward with an appointment process to fill Don Saylor’s spot. Given the issues of cost and timing, I believe this is the best approach, though I do understand those who would prefer an election.
However, the biggest danger is that this could become a public spectacle. The Brown Act requires the selection occur in public. That could potentially mean a long line of people throwing attacks and support for various candidates. In short, it could devolve into a circus, the likes of which Jerry Springer may be better equipped to handle than Joe Krovoza.
It behooves the council to select methods to reduce the possibility of this becoming a circus which would be a disservice to both the process and ultimately the community.
The Council will wrestle with these issues on Tuesday at their first Council meeting after Mayor Don Saylor has been sworn in as County Supervisor.
One thing that the Council should look into is the last time an appointment was made and that would be the appointment of Keltie Jones to the School Board.
The school district had a relatively straightforward process to fill the vacancy. First they had an application process with a form with background information and various questions.
After the application deadline, there was an information session for all of the candidates, who sat in with the administration team.
There were some public sessions similiar to candidate forums, with the opportunity for people to complete evaluation forms and public feedback forms that were provided at the District Office for anyone to submit.
The process finally culminated with a public interview by the board and then they voted in an open session. The candidate with the fewest votes was eliminated and they re-voted until there was finally a winner.
One thing the staff report suggests is a way to narrow the field so they do not go into the public session with more than 10 candidates.
They suggest a number of ways to achieve this, some of which involve the rank-ordering of candidates, which seems perhaps premature. Staff recommends that each councilmember provide their top five choices, and a repetition of that process with fewer names selected until they reach just ten candidates.
“Staff recommends [this] option as the one to use to reduce the candidate field, if necessary. It is straightforward and does not involve the precise ordering involved in the first option. It also ensures a minimum of five candidates in the field,” the report states.
The application process would include background information, a submission of Form 700 which is the basic statement of economic interests, and the application statement.
Among the concerns I have about a public voting process is how a required public comment session would operate. While public input is always important, there is a chance that a skillful candidate will simply pack the room and create a sense of overwhelming public support for a given candidate. To me that is not helpful input into the process.
The council has a very important and difficult decision to make and the best candidate may not be the one who can mobilize the most people to come out on a given night.
Creating reasonable limits are important. Preventing a public session from devolving into a negative campaign is vital. The Brown Act permits a reasonable limitation on the amount of time allotted to public comments and the ability to limit the length of such comments.
Unfortunately, these issues are not discussed in the staff report. Councilmember Stephen Souza at the December meeting talked about wanting to have the process an election in everything but name. But that is not reasonable. You cannot have an election in everything but name because an election has several non-replicable components.
We don’t have secret ballots. We do not have a way to accurately gauge public support for a candidate. The majority of people will not come out to council.
More than that, the council really needs to make the right decision, even if it might not be the most popular one.
Along with public comment, there is concern about venue. The Community Chambers are generally a good venue with easy television access and a good dais. But, the downside is that the capacity of the chambers is relatively small and it might end up being standing room only with people forced outside.
Such an alternative location as the Veteran’s Memorial building might be a better location, if we anticipate there is going to be a huge audience expected to participate in the public process.
Finally, the staff report discusses timelines. They are looking at an expedited process to allow for a Council appointment as early as February 15. However, at the same time they mention the League of Women Voters being comfortable with a February 7 date, with staff awaiting confirmation on a February 16 date for a Public Forum.
February is important because there is a fail-safe point of the end of the month if council cannot find three members to agree on a candidate.
All of this needs to be discussed early on so that there are no surprises.
The better this event is planned and concerns are mitigated, the smoother the process will be, and more people will accept the result as legitimate.
—David M. Greenwald reporting