CATHEDRAL CITY – An email exchange between a City Councilmember and an applicant for the vacant seat on the City Council could jeopardize the entire appointment process.

The email is at the center of growing tensions in the community that seems to pit progressives against conservatives and District 1 residents against the city at large.

Some have interpreted the email exchange between Mayor Mark Carnevale and Mayor Pro Tem John Aguilar and then Aguilar and former Mayor Stan Henry as a “rigged” and “fixed” appointment.

One applicant, Jamie Birch, who lives in District 1, told Uken Report the entire process should be delayed. She was one of 14 residents who applied for the vacancy.

“I’m actually upset because it feels like dirty politics,” Birch said. “I think applicants and the public were misled. It was all a back door deal. I’m wondering now, what was the point?”

Some have called the request for applications nothing more than a charade

There have been no behind-the-scenes conversations and “no collusion” among members of the City Council t.o appoint Henry to the vacant seat on the panel,  Carnevale told Uken Report.

The vacancy — and the longstanding controversy over how to fill it — was created when Mayor Gregory S. Pettis died in January.

As the City Council positions itself to appoint someone to fill the vacancy Wednesday, Feb. 27, some residents are alleging the appointment has already been determined, that the process has been rigged, that Councilors have violated the Brown Act, and more.

The blistering accusations stem from emails a resident, Chrys Goodell, sought and obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The resident sought the emails one day after the City Council voted to fill the vacancy by appointment. Goodell sought “all communication with the City Council in regards to filling the council seat left vacant upon the death of Mayor Pettis. This includes letters, emails, online postings, and phone records.”

In more than 60 pages of documents, the two email exchanges garnering the most attention is one that Carnevale sent to John Aguilar. Andy Jessup wrote to Carnevale singing Henry’s praises. At a time when members of the City Council were receiving anti-Henry emails, Aguilar responded, “Nice.”

Aguilar then forwarded it to Henry who said he hadn’t seen it.

Aguilar responds by saying, “I’m going to quote him?”

Henry says, “I’m working on the application now!!!!”

Aguilar then responds, “Excellent, I’m convinced it will be 3-1.”

The exchange took place on Saturday, Feb. 16 before the close of application deadline.  Henry is one of 14 people who applied to be considered for the vacancy.

Some have come to the conclusion that Aguilar was predicting the 3-1 vote based on inside knowledge he gleaned from conversations with other Councilmembers.

“Has the City Council gotten together and had a conversation about who should receive the appointment? Carnevale said. “Absolutely not. We’ve had no conversations. Andy Jessup wrote a beautiful letter to me so I forwarded that to John, which I can do.”

Aguilar then forwarded that to Henry.

“The reference to the 3-1 vote was John’s opinion,” Carnevale told Uken Report. “He has the right to determine how he thinks the vote will go. There was no collusion, no Brown Act violation, no pre-determination. Nothing.”

Critics of the email exchange are interpreting them to mean and say something that simply does not exist, Carnevale said.

“It’s all about what’s best for the city,” Carnevale said. “It’s going to be a tough one.”

Aguilar said the City Council has been “very, very careful” not to have any collective discussions about the appointment.

The only conversation Aguilar said he and Carnevale had about possibly filling the vacancy was the day immediately following Pettis’ death. As leaders on the City Council and in the community they felt it incumbent upon themselves to begin a dialogue. He did not say whether any names surfaced during that conversation.

As for the reference to the 3-1 vote, Aguilar said it was “pure assumption.”

“It was a pure guess on my part,” Aguilar told Uken Report. “I said that without any forethought. There are a lot of reasons why I will support a particular candidate and I will make no apologies for it. I will vote my conscience.”

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, one complaint has been filed with City Manager Charlie McClendon alleging that Councilmembers have violated the Brown Act.

At this point, it is anyone’s guess as to what will happen Wednesday. All options remain on the table, McClendon said. The City Council could appoint someone from the applications it received or it could hold a special election. However, time is running out. By law, the seat must to be filled within 60 days of it becoming vacant. Pettis died Jan. 15.