My View: Council Should Go Special Election Route in Filling Frerichs Seat

Mayor Lucas Frerichs gave some introductory remarks at the Rothstein event last month

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – In 2020 when School Board member Cindy Pickett resigned, the school board moved to appoint a replacement, but in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests, many in the community were not pleased that the school board would replace Pickett, a woman of color, with a white woman.

A petition drive followed and the appointment was overturned and that November, Vigdis Asmundson was elected to fill out the seat – her term has since expired and she was unable to run again due to district elections.

While the voters may not have the same recourse they did in 2020 with respect to the vacant council seat, the council can avoid a repeat of this problem.

In a letter from Pickett, she noted, “I feel strongly that the Davis community deserves to have a voice in choosing who their leaders are and that an election should be held. Elections are often the only means through which the less well-connected sectors of our community have any influence. Elections can also help ensure that officials are attuned to those they represent.”

She warned, “the appointment process carries the risk of being influenced by the deciding body’s familiarity and prior relationships with the potential appointees. This can happen implicitly, even when the members of that body are well intentioned and have vowed to put any potential biases aside.”

That decision will be made on Tuesday and whatever the council decides, they have to do so quickly if they want an election in May as opposed to August or November.

The council could make an interim appointment while at the same time calling for a special election.

All of this was discussed in July when it appeared that the council was leaning towards a special election.

Gloria Partida, who was recently reelected, said at the time, “I am uncomfortable with appointing somebody for a two-year term.  I think the two years is a very long time to have someone that was not, that was not elected.”

Will Arnold, now Mayor, also indicated he was now leaning toward a special election, especially with the new reality of district elections.

Up until the Cindy Pickett resignation in 2020, local bodies had just about always appointed replacements in the case of resignation.  This is what happened with the City Council back in 2011, when Don Saylor was elected to the Board of Supervisors in the middle of his second council term.  The council after a lengthy process approved Dan Wolk to fill the seat.

Wolk then ran on his own in 2012, about 16 months later.

With November elections, however, there are almost two years remaining on Frerichs’ term.  That was a consideration for Partida.

In addition, in 2012, there were at large elections, meaning the council members were elected representatives of the entire community.  That is no longer the case.  With the election in November, each of the four remaining members of the council have been elected by their respective districts rather than the entire community.

In 2020, there was an additional issue – at the time, Pickett was the only woman elected to the school board, and she was also one of two people of color.  The optics of replacing a woman of color with a white woman, right after the George Floyd killing and subsequent protests did not sit well with a sizable portion of the population.

The council at this point now has two people of color of the four remaining council members and that is less likely to be an issue in 2023 than it was in 2020.

Still, the Davis community remains heavily divided on issues such as development and land use.  In the last two cycles of elections, we have seen two land use projects—Measure J votes—rejected by the voters.  At the same time, slow growth candidates running in four of the five seats were soundly defeated.

Still, it would be safest for the council to simply appoint an interim council member so they are not operating with a four-person council for the next six months and then call for a special election in May, and allow the voters in the 3rd District decide for themselves between what figures to be a vibrant group of candidates.

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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