Monday Morning Thoughts: Folks Will Yell Democracy, but Davis Has Generally Appointed to Fill Vacancies

Vice Mayor Lucas Frerichs

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA –This week the Davis City Council will decide what they will do once Mayor Lucas Frerichs steps down in January from the city council to serve on the County Board of Supervisors.  Just as his predecessor Don Saylor, the council will most likely appoint a replacement to fill out the nearly two years of Frerichs’ term.

Some citizens have pushed for a more democratic process, but in 2011, the council used the appointment process to select Dan Wolk to replace Don Saylor.

Ben Madson twice served on the Davis City Council from 1939 to 1947 and 1957 to 1960, when he was appointed.  He served as Mayor 1947-48 and took a stand in favor of allowing Japanese Americans to return to the community.

Richard Weinstock was appointed in 1972.  Norm Woodbury, according to Growing Pains, “announced plans to step down even though he had two years remaining on his term, because he had decided to take a job in San Francisco with the California Judicial Council.”

The result was that when three new councilmembers were elected, they would join holdover Maynard Skinner in selecting a replacement.

Writes Mike Fitch, “One obvious solution for the council was to select Miller, since he finished fourth, but Poulos, Holdstock and Black discarded that idea. In the end, the council voted to fill the slot with Rich Weinstock, a 27-year-old personnel supervisor for Pacific Telephone Co. who served as chairman of the Veterans’ Memorial Building Committee. The decision frustrated those who favored appointing a minority or someone with closer ties to student interests, but helped balance the council politically, and was seen as a conciliatory move toward the business community.”

In 1978, Richard Farrell was appointed to council—a close friend and ally of Bob Black.  He served from 1978 to 1980.

Since 2000, we have also seen three appointments.  In 2002, Keltie Jones was appointed to fill the term vacated by John Poulos, who moved from the district.  She would then be elected in her own right in November 2003 and announced in 2007 that she would not seek another term.

She told the Davis Enterprise in 2007, “I have also learned that I have no taste for the political maneuvering that accompanies an elected position in this town, and I have no desire to participate in another campaign.”

More recently, the school board twice appointed Joy Klineberg to vacant seats.  First in 2018, she was selected to replace Madhavi Sunder.  Then in 2020, she was selected to replace Cindy Pickett, however, petitioners overturned that decision, and the position was vacant until November when Vigdis Asmundson was elected to fill that seat.

What is interesting is that the only time we could find where there was an election in Davis to fill an appointment is when the voters petitioned it in 2020—and that option, interestingly is not available for city council seats.

Of course, just because we have always done something one way is no reason to continue doing so.

The biggest reason that will be cited is cost.  The city estimates the cost of the election would be approximately $80,000 to $130,000.  Funds would come from the General Fund.

What is the cost of democracy, one might ask?  After all, we are in a community with a relatively serious economic shortfall and yet, the council has recently approved the purchase of a ladder truck with not only steep one-time costs, but ongoing personnel costs running over $1 million per year.  This is a one-time expenditure of less than one-tenth of that.

I would also point out that both sides expended a comparable total for a ballot argument dispute over a few words.  Maybe we can get the litigants of that case to also cover the cost for democracy in this instance?

I also have a modest proposal that does not involve babies.  If the council wishes to avoid the costs of a special election, perhaps they should appoint Larry Guenther to fill Lucas Frerichs position.  That would likely quell most of the reservations from those arguing for an election.  Plus Guenther has now twice run for council, most recently finishing runner up to Lucas Frerichs.

It’s a thought as it would fill the council’s desire to avoid the cost of the election and yet placate the vocal critics who would argue that the current process is patently unfair and supports the status quo.

Interestingly, it seems that part of the motivation in 1972 with naming Weinstock was to placate the business community at a time when the progressives had just taken over in an historic election that changed the course of city politics forever.  At the time, the council could afford to be magnanimous because the progressives had the clear majority.  Just as the status quo could largely do the same and retain voting control.

Honestly, the cost of an election is relatively low and it’s a one-time cost.  That should not be the reason that the council goes with an appointment process.

That said, I think the most likely course of action would be for the council to appoint someone to council and then the voters can decide in 2024 what to do with the seat.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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18 Comments

  1. Bill Marshall

    There is a huge difference now, compared to the past… DISTRICTS!

    What you appear to be recommending, or at least defending, is that folk from other districts choose who represent Lucas’ district.  In the past, all CC members were ‘at large’, and they appointed an ‘at large’ replacement, when there was a vacancy.

    I see a real potential for a violation of the Brown Act, where Lucas, behind the scenes, advocates to designate his ‘heir’.

    The ‘right thing’, now Lucas has been certified to become Co. Supervisor, would be for him to step down, and the seat be opened up for the November election to fish the term… but that ain’t gonna’ happen… an ego is involved… and the opportunity to add a longer term as “Mayor” to a CV.

    I’d put up more of a fuss if I lived in the district… but I don’t…

    I opine the ‘next right thing’ to do is have the special election… philosophically, and practically…

  2. Don Shor

    A special election would occur in May, leaving District 3 without representation for up to six months during the time when the council will be discussing the downtown plan. District 3 includes the downtown. As a business owner within District 3, I would prefer to have that council seat empty for as short a period as possible. The council should seek applicants, hold public hearings, and choose from among those willing to serve in a fair and open manner.

  3. Ron Glick

    “The ‘right thing’, now Lucas has been certified to become Co. Supervisor, would be for him to step down, and the seat be opened up for the November election to fish the term… but that ain’t gonna’ happen…”

    You are right about it not happening the way you prefer. Frerichs won the seat in a fair and free election and should serve the people who elected him until he is no longer able or willing to do so. Once he is seated as a Supervisor, by law, he can no longer serve on the City Council. At that point he has no choice other than resigning.

    The notion that someone who has won two elections over two years should resign during an interregnum period is absurd. I can’t think of a single example of this happening anywhere. Can anyone find such an example?

    1. Bill Marshall

      So, may we assume you support the concept of an appointment to the ‘Lucas district’ by the rest (4) of the council?  A special election?  Those are the other two choices in play…

      1. Ron Glick

        Vacancies happen. I don’t think its that big a deal either way. If they appoint someone they can fill it more quickly or they could have a special election with a several month vacancy. What I don’t agree with is the notion that Frerichs should resign.

        Half the CC making the decision as to whether to appoint or elect will be up for election in November. Half the CC will have been recently elected in January when the vacancy occurs so its not like the community won’t get to weigh in on what process to follow for replacing the Mayor.

    2. Bill Marshall

      The notion that someone who has won two elections over two years should resign during an interregnum period is absurd. I can’t think of a single example of this happening anywhere. Can anyone find such an example?

      Yes… several… admittedly not on the local level… but @ federal (and sometimes, State)… a member of the House, elected as a Senator, resigns ‘early’ to have the Governor appoint a successor to the House seat, to give the ‘newbie’ a leg up, technically, as to “seniority” as to committee assignments…

      And ‘appointments’ give the ‘newbie’ a leg up when it comes to the next election, where they get to run as an “incumbent”… without needing to run for their first ‘term’… that has happened, locally, as cited in the article…

      So, again since we’re left with two choices, do you favor appointment (as David appears to defend) or special election?  Simple question…

      1. David Greenwald

        Just to be clear – I did not take a position on appointment or election other than to suggest that cost should not be the determining factor.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Clarification noted… I truly missed the part about “cost should not be the determining factor” (my ‘bad’, but given heading of article, and much of the text, that concept pretty much got ‘lost’) … I actually think it (special election) is warranted, and appropriate, given the lack of what I believe to be the correct alternative, and the fact that we now have “districts” (would have felt differently if it was still “at large”).  [Also given another point, that an appointee would have an advantage in a subsequent election.  See examples you cited]

          This situation is different from (proximity of regular election), yet somewhat analogous to (Board/CC person “moving on” during their elected term… the DJUSD situation when Cindy Pickett resigned to ‘take on another role’)… DJUSD could have bypassed the appointment, and gone to regular or special election… but they didn’t… that decision for an ‘appointment’, didn’t work out very well… IMNSHO…

          Will local history repeat itself?  We likely will find out…

  4. Ron Oertel

    Not surprising that David would advocate for the current, DiSC-supporting council to appoint someone (for a district that they don’t even represent), while coming out against an appointment on the school board.

    (With the latter selection having the “wrong color”, according to some.)

  5. Ron Glick

    “So, again since we’re left with two choices, do you favor appointment (as David appears to defend) or special election? ”

    The best most sincere answer I can give is I don’t care. I can live with either way. But favoritism is another reason why the popularly elected CC member should not resign. That is something I feel strongly about.

    1. David Greenwald

      I did not defend an appointment, I explained that that is how it has been done.  I also said, “ Of course, just because we have always done something one way is no reason to continue doing so.”  And I also predicted that that is likely the way they will go, but at no point did I state that I favor that approach.

      1. Ron Oertel

        The focus of you articles (and your headlines) usually provides indication of your support (or opposition), even when it isn’t as clear (as say a DA race).  And here’s your title, this time:

        Monday Morning Thoughts: Folks Will Yell Democracy, but Davis Has Generally Appointed to Fill Vacancies

        “Yell democracy”?

        Much like you noted regarding the difference (between Boudin and Jenkins) in how their respective mass firings of those they supervise were reported by the media.  (Though I believe the Chronicle was actually against that recall.)

        It would be interesting to go back and see how you reported on the Davis school board member recall, after the appointment that some objected to. Which really stands out, given that (undesirable) skin color was a primary motivating factor for some of those involved in that. Including for the person who actually left that seat. (And, yet, no one seemed to object to that type of thing.)

        (Of course, you almost totally ignored the school board recall in S.F.)

  6. Don Shor

    I also have a modest proposal that does not involve babies.  If the council wishes to avoid the costs of a special election, perhaps they should appoint Larry Guenther to fill Lucas Frerichs position.  That would likely quell most of the reservations from those arguing for an election.  Plus Guenther has now twice run for council, most recently finishing runner up to Lucas Frerichs.

    I think it is actually inappropriate to start discussing names at this stage. It may well be there are existing commissioners, civic leaders, or other interested community members who would have an interest in applying for the seat. All you do here is increase name recognition for someone. I have no problem at all with Larry, if he’s interested. But this isn’t the way to go about this.

    I imagine your Jonathan Swift literary allusion went right over everyone’s heads….

  7. Bill Marshall

    After re-reading the commentary (article), Ron G’s and Don S’s comments, it becomes obvious “the fix is on”… it will be an appointment (despite some public posturing), with Larry G the odds on favorite…

    Not my district… but, a district that won’t even be polled as to their druthers… it is what it is… the rest is smokescreen and rationalization/”spin”… with districts, not my problem…

    1. Ron Glick

      I have no power to fix anything related to council decisions beyond the influence of my words. As for any favorites for appointment, I don’t have anyone on my short list, nor do I believe anyone has an inside track.

  8. Dave Hart

     If the council wishes to avoid the costs of a special election, perhaps they should appoint Larry Guenther to fill Lucas Frerichs position.  That would likely quell most of the reservations from those arguing for an election.  Plus Guenther has now twice run for council, most recently finishing runner up to Lucas Frerichs.

    Looking at it from another angle, if Guenther has twice failed to get elected on his own that may be an argument for not appointing him:  he’s a proven loser with the electorate.  I don’t know him personally, so I say that without any judgment  on whether he would be a good council representative or not.  I think that leaves me with the traditional approach of appointment:  it leaves the seat empty for the minimum amount of time.  That’s how I would feel if my district were in the same situation.

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