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PD Editorial: The good and bad of filling Santa Rosa vacancy

Published: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 5:16 p.m.

During the summer of 2007 — the last time the Santa Rosa City Council found itself with a mid-term vacancy — 23 people applied for the position in a process that lasted about a month.

Ultimately, the City Council settled on Carol Dean of the West End Neighborhood Association to complete the term of Mike Martini, who stepped down for business reasons. Despite the number of candidates, Dean was selected after just two rounds of voting.

Thankfully, the current City Council is starting off on a similar path in filling a vacancy left by Susan Gorin, the newest member of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

On Tuesday, the council decided to avoid putting the city through an expensive and unnecessary election — costing upwards of $290,000 — opting instead to try to make its own appointment.

The council also resisted being pressured into appointing the runner-up in the previous election. The next two finishers in the last election, Don Taylor and Caroline Bañuelos, were a mere 17 votes apart, and both were nearly 3,000 votes behind the fourth-place finisher Gary Wysocky. Neither can be regarded as coming with a clear mandate from voters in what was an election to fill four seats, not five.

Moreover, records show that in each of the seven times that a mid-term vacancy has occurred on the Santa Rosa City Council since 1954, the position was filled through council appointment. And never in that time was the runner-up in the last election appointed.

Meanwhile, the council did not follow the model of the previous council in one important aspect. It did not tie the hands of candidates in requiring applicants to commit not to run for election when the term expired. This was an unfortunate obligation that complicated the tenure of Dean, who otherwise would have been a worthy candidate in 2008.

Thankfully, there will be no such burden placed on candidates this time around.

We have already gone on record encouraging the City Council to appoint a west side resident to fill this vacancy in light of the recent debate about Measure Q. The November ballot measure called for electing City Council members by district as opposed to the current at-large system (“Find West SR resident for council seat,” Nov. 10). We opposed the solution that Measure Q offered, but the problem remains. Over the past 30 years, only four City Council members — including Dean — have come from the west side of town, and none has come from the southwest quadrant.

This vacancy presents another opportunity to provide more geographic diversity to the city's governing board, while opening the door, we hope, to more conversation about how to further bridge this east-west representation gap.

It's also true that the council will have a challenging enough time just coming to an agreement on a candidate. The political leanings of council members and the council's recent divisions suggest that it won't be as easy to come to agreement on a candidate as it was in 2007.

We encourage council members to commit to working together and avoid painting themselves into ideological corners that will produce only a stalemate and force the city to spend money on an election it can't afford. Agreeing on a candidate also will set a promising tone for what many hope will be a more collaborative new year.

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