CATHEDRAL CITY – Rigorous debate has begun among residents about who should fill the City Council seat left vacant by the death of Mayor Gregory S. Pettis.

The City Council is poised to debate the issue on Feb. 13 when it will decide whether to hold a special election or appoint someone to fill the vacancy. Pettis’ term was scheduled to expire in 2020.

Much of the debate is centered on whether someone should be appointed from District 1 where Pettis resided, or whether the appointee should come from the city at large since he was still technically representing the city at large. There has been little to no public debate among residents as to whether there should be a special election.

Debate among residents is also falling into two camps: progressives versus conservatives.

Progressives are rallying behind former City Councilmember Shelley Kaplan, who stepped down at the end of last year. Conservatives are rooting for former Mayor Stan Henry who also stepped down last year.

The debate, much of which has been on social media and in coffee klatches, was stoked by an opinion piece penned by John A. Rivera and published on Uken Report on Jan. 30; Rivera made his case for appointing Kaplan. Rivera ran unsuccessfully for a seat in District 4 in the November election. Pettis, Kaplan, and Mayor Pro Tem John Aguilar endorsed him. Read Rivera’s full argument for Kaplan here.

Both Henry and Kaplan told Uken Report they stand ready to serve if tapped.

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Stan Henry

“I am very disappointed and disturbed by some of the posts I have seen on Facebook,” Henry told Uken Report. “I have lived and worked in Cathedral City for over 30 years and have always had the best interest of the city and community in the forefront of everything I’ve done. Unfortunately the City Council has to make a decision that is very difficult. I know they will do what is right for our community in that decision. If they feel I could be an asset to the Council and help, I would be honored to serve.”

The debate heats up one day before a public Celebration of Life for the late Mayor Pettis.

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Shelley Kaplan

“I would be honored to be asked to carry on the goals of Mayor Pettis even though there is no one who can fill his shoes given his history and experience,” Kaplan told Uken Report. “I could not run for re-election last year because I reside in Greg’s district and Greg was re-elected in 2016 through 2020. While the position is still an ”at-large” position until the 2020 election, anyone who is appointed outside of District 1 would not be able to run for re-election in 2020 unless they reside in the District.”

Kaplan added that, “There are many projects in the works that I would like to see come to fruition and many goals on the Council’s agenda for the past four years that I would like to see completed and some that I would like added to the list. I believe that continuity of history and experience is extremely important to a successful Council and it would be a privilege to continue serving my District and the residents of the city.”

The debate is likely to continue up to and during the Feb. 13 City Council meeting.