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Many choices for Santa Rosa City Council in picking 7th member

Published: Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 3:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 3:50 p.m.

Imagine if you could win a seat on the Santa Rosa City Council without enduring an election.

Facts

APPLICANT INTERVIEWS

Monday interview times for the 17 applicants for the council vacancy are:

2:30 p.m. Curtis Byrd
2:45 p.m. David Rosas
3 p.m. Douglas Krikac
3:15p.m. Mike Cook
3:30 p.m. George Steffensen
3:45 p.m. Barbara Ramsey
4 p.m. Roy Sprague
4:15 p.m. Gary Saal
4:30 p.m. Robin Swinth
4:45 p.m. Don Taylor
5 p.m. P.W. Hughes

5:15 p.m. — Council 30-minute dinner break

5:45 p.m. Hans Dippel
6 p.m. Karen Lovvorn
6:15 p.m. Zachary Rounds
6:30 p.m. Jeffrey Owen
6:45 p.m. Caroline Bañuelos
7 p.m. Robert Malm

No fundraising. No campaigning. No walking precincts. No groveling for endorsements from special interest groups.

Just fill out an application, answer a few questions, and if four of the six council members like what they hear, you get to join them in directing public policy for the next two years.

That possibility is proving attractive to 17 people who hope to be appointed to serve the remaining two years of the second term of Susan Gorin, who won election to the Board of Supervisors in November.

While several applicants have run unsuccessfully for council, most have demonstrated little if any political aspirations before now.

“I cannot imagine myself campaigning, raising money and doing all the other things that would be required to be elected,” admitted Roy Sprague, a retired Cal Fire firefighter who has lived in the city 23 years.

Sprague suggests that not standing for election makes him a better choice because he will not be beholden to special interest groups.

“To get elected, you have to do some things that obligate you to people, so my strength right now is that I'm not obligated to anybody,” Sprague said. “I will be guided only by what is best for the citizens of Santa Rosa.”

Jeffrey Owen also acknowledges that he has “never had an interest to run in an election.” But the executive at Exchange Bank said he “saw this as an opportunity to provide community service where I believe I can contribute to the betterment of Santa Rosa.”

Unemployed lumber salesman Douglas Krikac offers a similar assessment. “This position intrigues me,” Krikac wrote in his application. “I doubt that I could be elected to the office, so want to give appointment a try.”

The comments underscore a key challenge facing the council as it seeks to fill the vacant seat.

Should it select someone who has never shown an interest in running for public office, and if so how can that be justified? Why should it give the job to someone unwilling to ask voters for it?

Or should the council tap one of those who has stood for election, albeit unsuccessfully? Shouldn't their willingness to seek election and the support they received count for something?

Applicants like Don Taylor, Caroline Banuelos, Hans Dippel and Mike Cook, all of whom were on the ballot in November but were not elected, argue that their prior campaigns demonstrate their desire to serve.

Even Cook, who dropped out of the race, claims his aborted campaign “proves that I am a dedicated resident.”

There is value, they and others argue, in candidates who have subjected themselves to the rigors of a political campaign. It forces them to get to know their constituents, understand their concerns and gain at least a familiarity with the policy issues facing the city.

“I knocked on doors for a year,” wrote Hans Dippel, a wine industry executive who finished eighth in the November race that put the top four vote-getters in office.

There is a sense among some that the council, since it decided to open the process to all residents, is looking for someone voters haven't seen before, Dippel said.

“The feeling is they are probably not going to appoint somebody who has previously run, which makes no sense to me,” Dippel said.

Mayor Scott Bartley has made it clear he wanted as large and diverse a group of candidate as possible, and said the council's job isn't to “pick the most popular person,” but rather whomever “can do the best job.”

Some people with a direct stake in the decision are making it known that they think the campaign experience of some applicants should be viewed as an asset, not a liability.

“I feel that if you've run, you've already shown your commitment to an extent,” said Alan Schellerup, president of the Santa Rosa Police Officers Association.

Schellerup was one three public employee union representatives who interviewed council applicant Robin Swinth, a member of the city Board of Public Utilities member who is considered one of the frontrunners, and Tanya Narath, the executive director of the Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy, who opted not to apply soon after her meeting with the groups, citing the workload.

Schellerup argues that those who were unsuccessful in November nonetheless secured significant support, noting that Dippel received nearly 14,000 votes.

“That's 14,000 more than Robin or Tanya,” Schellerup said.

The diversity of backgrounds and talents of those stepping forward for the first time are apparent.

They include former Agilent engineers, a banker, a tutor, a community relations specialist, a water quality regulator, a pharmaceutical salesman and several small business owners and retirees.

While 17 applicants may seem like plenty to choose from, Dave McCuan, political science professor at Sonoma State University, said the field “thins pretty quickly.”

He noted that 75-year-old retired nurse Karen Lovvorn's preference not to attend night meetings makes her an unlikely selection.

Others who might find trouble garnering four votes include: Bob Malm, a retired container ship captain who provided two- and three-word answers on the council questionnaire; Krikac, who says he is running to represent “all the other regular guys and gals,” but says he has little hope of being selected; and Zachary Rounds, a water quality regulator with the state Department of Public Health, who submitted some unusual qualifications (“I can also run a mile in around seven minutes, which will be useful when rival cities challenge us to a foot race for the prize of renegotiated water rights”).

If those who have run for the office and failed to win and those who can be considered “second-tier” applicants are set aside, McCuan said the field shrinks quickly.

“We might have five or six candidates who are really viable, and I would cut that number in half,” McCuan said.

The council probably will gravitate toward someone who hasn't run for office but has a significant record of public service, such as being a member of a city board or commission, McCuan said.

“In some senses, this is worse than reality television, because they are trying to appoint someone who will be a key decision maker but is also a blank slate,” McCuan said.

Finding the right person will be a big challenge, especially given the process to date, which McCuan called “poorly handled and bizarre” for the secrecy surrounding it.

The ultimate decision will be “supercharged and second-guessed” by everyone because the influence of that seventh council member could be enormous, McCuan said.

“The future direction of the council hangs in the balance,” he said.

A special City Council meeting to interview candidates begins at 2 p.m. Monday at City Hall. Public comments begin at 2 p.m., with interviews scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. They are scheduled in 15-minute intervals through 7 p.m. The council can make a decision Monday evening or on Tuesday before its regular council meeting.

(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater)

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