CATHEDRAL CITY – The City Council should fill the vacant seat through appointment rather than by special election because it is the most expedient, least expensive option, according to City Attorney Eric S. Vail.

If the Council decides to fill the vacancy through a special election, the city would incur a cost estimated by the Riverside County Registrar of Voters of $77,000 to $98,000 together with an increased amount of City Clerk time being allocated to the election, according to Vail’s report to the City Council.

The City Council may through an open process, not only provide a fair opportunity for public participation, but ensure equitable representation of the community and consistent implementation of the intent of its Charter, Vail said.

Since the vacant seat is still an “at-large” seat, applications may be solicited from qualified electors within the City as a whole. However, since the seat will become a District 1 seat in 2020, it would be within Council authority and discretion to give consideration to those candidates already residing in what will be District 1.

The City Charter and State Law require City Council action to fill the vacated seat.

The vacancy on the five-member City Council was created when Mayor Gregory S. Pettis died on Jan. 15. His seat was an at-large seat until his term expired in 2020.

The City Council is set to make a decision on Wednesday, Feb. 13 on whether to appoint someone or hold a special election. Given the attorney’s counsel and cost, the City Council is expected to appoint someone.  If so, the Councilmembers would discuss and direct the process by which candidates will be considered for appointment to the vacant seat and set any relevant dates associated with such process, according to Vail.

The person so elected or appointed will serve out the remaining portion of Councilmember Pettis’ term until a new member for District 1 is elected and sworn in after the next regular election in November of 2020.

As the decision looms, the rhetoric on social media has ratcheted up considerably. The most vocal residents fall into two camps – one camp supports former City Councilmember Shelley Kaplan, who is a gay progressive; the other camp support former Mayor Stan Henry, a heterosexual conservative.

Both have told Uken report they would be willing to serve if asked.

Henry supporters argue he has honorably served the city for more than three decades as both the police chief and then as mayor. He has institutional knowledge and a historical perspective his supporters say will help fill the void Pettis leaves. He was the longest-serving member of the City Council.

Kaplan, who was part of Pettis’ inner circle of friends, is better suited to fill the role because he is more like Pettis. As a former Councilor, he, too, brings experience and continuity. Kaplan also lives in District 1, where Pettis lived.

Both the City Charter and State law expressly authorize the Council to fill Council vacancies by appointment and both provide the Council with discretion on what process to follow to make the appointment. The only requirement is that the person appointed by a “qualified elector,” according to Vail.

Under the Election Code a “qualified elector” is a U.S Citizen, over the age of 18 and registered voter in an election precinct in the State. Applying the rule on a local level, the person would need to be a resident of and registered to vote in Cathedral City.

While the Council could simply take nominations from the dais at a regular, legally noticed Council meeting and then make an appointment, many cities allow for a more open procedure, according to Vail. Typically, there is a short period for qualified electors to submit a statement of interest/application to the Council for consideration. There would then be a public session during which the Council as a whole publicly and briefly interviews each candidate, and concluding with Council deliberation, nomination and then appointment of a single candidate by majority vote of the entire City Council.

Should the Council decide to follow such a procedure, the following schedule could be implemented:

  • Deadline to Submit Statement of Interest (no filing fee) – 5 p.m. on Feb. 19, 2019
  • Council Interview of Candidates – Feb. 27, 2019

Supporters on each side are planning strategies.