Cloverdale city hall

Cloverdale City Hall. Photo Zoë Strickland

The Cloverdale City Council unanimously decided to have a recent council vacancy filled via a public application process, foregoing a special election that the city said would cost between $16,000 and $26,500. The council seat belonged to former council member Jason Turner, who stepped down from his post on May 4 following a professional opportunity.

Whoever the council chooses to fill Turner’s seat will sit on the council for the remainder of his term, serving the people of Cloverdale until December 2022.

According to the council vacancy application information, those who wish to apply for the vacant seat must due so by June 1, after which the council will review applications and hold a public interview process, currently set for June 9. The council has 60 days from the announcement of a vacancy to fill a vacant council spot or to a call a special election, meaning that the council has until July 2 to choose a candidate. According to city clerk Irene Camacho-Werby, if the council wants to appoint someone using its regularly scheduled council meetings, the last meeting before July 2 is scheduled for June 23.

“I’m really saddened to see Councilmember Turner leave the city council, but I understand. Family comes first and that’s what he has to do. I only hope someday he decides that he wants to run again,” said Councilmember Gus Wolter, discussing Turner.

Wolter praised Turner for keeping council meetings lighthearted and to the point. When it came time to recommend how to fill the council seat, Wolter recommended that the council appoint someone that’s already familiar with being on the council than open up the floor to a special election.

“I don’t think that that’s necessary based on the pool of qualified individuals that we have already in the city,” Wolter said. “I looked back down the roll of former council members and for no particular reason of mentioning, we have Bob Cox, we have Mary Ann Brigham, we have Carol Russell, we have Joe Palla, we have other individuals that will do an ideal job.”

Wolter was the first to suggest that the city go through the public application process, specifically throwing former council member Palla’s hat into the ring as a name that stands out to him.

“He’s well connected in the county he’s well connected in Sacramento, he knows the community, he’s done an excellent job for the city as the police chief and as the council member,” Wolter said of Palla.

Councilmember Melanie Bagby posited instead that the council should have an application process for the seat rather than discussing who to appoint.

“(We should) have a very open process among the council and select the most qualified candidate, that’s what I’d like to see going forward — so that it’s transparent and so the community can see what we’re doing and why we made the selection,” Bagby said. “It isn’t mandatory that we do that, but I think that’s the most transparent way to move forward.”

The council unanimously supported the idea of an application process, especially given the price tag associated with holding a special election. Wolter said that he’s specifically interested in someone who’s able to be up to speed immediately, rather than someone who will have to battle a learning curve from never having been on the council.

“I’m very open in looking forward to all that our town has to offer. I know that we have a lot of people present, past and future people for our city council,” said Vice Mayor Todd Lands said (Lands and Mayor Marta Cruz were appointed vice mayor and mayor later on in the meeting).

Later, during council deliberation, Lands added, “I think a special election is the absolute wrong way to go,” addressing additional costs that the city may accrue related to the election such as legal costs, noting that the public can make their opinions known during a public interview process.

Summer Lands, one of the council’s student representatives, voiced that she believes the council should hold a special election to fill the seat, saying that it seems like the fairest practice for everyone to have their opinion heard.

Summer Lands’ opinion was echoed during public comment.

“I have been listening to all of this. Gus, Joe is awesome. Mary Ann, I back her 100%. But we need a special election, that’s it. The public needs to be heard, because we need some new blood on the council … this city needs something new,” said Liane Fabian.

“Right now, again, there’s a lot at stake for this community of Cloverdale. For people that live in city limits and people that live outside of city limits. These are big shoes to fill and it would be a disservice if we already had somebody in mind ready to reshuffle the seat. This community deserves the respect to have a say, and sometimes we have to spend some money to preserve (that),” said Christina Lepe-Duarte.

Two community members agreed with the council members, however.

“I think I would like to shadow Gus a little bit … I think that right now the city doesn’t have time to screw around with newbies,” said Angela Cordova. “Bringing in another new person and trying to get them up to speed with policy and procedures … we don’t really have time for that. I think that the city really needs to take into consideration bringing somebody in that’s familiar. “

Another public commenter, identified as Linda, said that she agrees that the community has a lot at stake and disagrees with Wolter’s notion of throwing Palla’s had into the ring but said that she too doesn’t think the city needs to hold a special election.

“I think it needs to be much more objective in how we put someone in this spot and if that can’t be done, then it should go to an election,” she said.

If the council had decided instead to hold a special election, it would cost the city between $16,000 and $26,500 in fees associated with the special election. Additionally, the proposed special election date would be Nov. 2, 2021, which would have an elected council member serve for nearly a year before the seat is up for election again.

The application for the council seat went up on the city’s website on May 14. The public application process to fill the vacancy council seat is now open, with applications being accepted for the next two weeks until June 1. Following council review of the applications, applicants will be interviewed during a public meeting on June 9.

For more information about the application process, click here.

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