The question of how to fill the City Council seat left vacant by our late Mayor Greg Pettis is being passionately debated on two sides. One side argues that because Mayor Pettis’s status was an “at -large” seat, that his replacement should be considered as qualified for appointment no matter from which district this potential candidate resides. The other side argues that the “at-large” status of Mayor Pettis’s seat expired when our late mayor passed away and that the “at-large” status was further closed when our Mayor Pro Tem Mark Carnevale was then sworn in as mayor and therefore his vacant seat should be filled by a resident of District 1 in accordance with our newly adopted City Charter.

Speaking as a former candidate for City Council in the 2018 District 4 race, I saw the value of the new Charter in fair and balanced community representation and when candidate now Councilmember Ernesto Gutierrez won, District 4 was guaranteed a voice at City Council proving the new system works. For this very same reason, I believe District 1 is fully entitled to this very same fair and balanced representation and that any candidate being considered for the District 1 vacancy should and must be a resident of District 1.

If the candidate’s not from District 1, then there would be one District with two representatives at City Council and District 1 residents would be without a resident representative. I further believe that if the vacant seat’s filled by appointment by a non-resident of District 1 that there’s the risk by City Council of conflict of interest or at the very least the appearance of conflict of interest either of which would foster distrust in City Council and lay a foundation for costly litigation against such an appointment.

Also in consideration is an option for a special election to be held to determine who should fill the vacant seat. While there are some past “at -large” City Councilmembers and mayors being considered for appointment, it’s impossible to say whether any of these same potential candidates would win the District 1 seat if a special election were to be held at this time. They were each fairly elected citywide for their respective offices, but constituents of any single District including District 1 are not necessarily on the same page as our citizens citywide when it comes to how their particular Districts are to represented. Regardless of their qualifications it really should be for District 1 to decide who is best qualified to represent them just as it was for three other Cathedral City Districts in the 2018 Election.

If there were to be a special election would voters citywide be allowed to vote or would it be limited to voters from District 1 just as it was in the 2018 Election? If a special election’s open to all registered voters citywide, how is it fair for the representative of District 1 to be chosen by voters of other Districts to potentially elect an “at-large” candidate who may not even reside in District 1? And again, how likely is it that an “at-large” candidate from another District would win even if the special election was limited to registered voters from District 1?

Should City Council decide to appoint a candidate from District 1 to fill the vacancy, that would be a reasonably fair appointment. Should City Council decide to hold a special election limited to registered voters from District 1, that would absolutely guarantee a fair replacement for the District 1 seat leaving no question to that candidate’s legitimacy. Either option is fair to District 1 and would be in conformance with the intent of the City Charter.

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Shelley Kaplan

For the all the reasons I’ve outlined, the best candidate to fill the District 1 vacancy, in my opinion, is Shelley Kaplan who is both a past City Councilmember with the experience and track record needed and a resident of District 1 who understands the unique needs of District 1.