Tomorrow night, the Anaheim City Council will consider placing a charter amendment on the June 5, 2018 ballot requiring council seat vacancies be filled by special election. Currently, the council has the option to fill a vacancy either by direct appointment or calling a special election.
The amendment is being proposed by Councilwoman Kris Murray as in keeping with the spirit of district elections, by allowing voters of a district to choose their council representative rather than leaving it up to councilmembers from the other districts. An exception would be made for vacancies occurring during the last year of a council term, in which case the council could choose to fill it by direct appointment.
The last time the Anaheim City Council had to fill a council vacancy was after Councilman Tom Daly was sworn in as the city’s first directly-elected mayor in December 1994, rendering his council seat vacant. It took nearly two months to fill the vacancy as Mayor Daly and the three remaining councilmembers deadlocked in series of votes during that period. On January 24, 1995 – days before the 60-day clock ran out and triggered a special election – Daly switched his vote to vote for the appointment then-Planning Commissioner Tom Tait, who was being supported by Councilmembers Bob Zemel and Frank Feldhaus. At that time, the entire council and mayor were all elected city-wide, and so voters had an indirect say in the selection via the mayor and councilmembers who were accountable to them.
The city could face a similar situation given District 4 Councilwoman Lucille Kring recent decision to run for the Orange County Board of Supervisors. As a long-time councilmember from the largest city on the 4th Supervisor District, Kring has a good chance of winning. Since her council term doesn’t expire until 2020, a Kring victory in the supervisor race would create a mid-term vacancy in Council District 4.
If that scenario comes to pass, the vacancy would occur after the new council is seated in December 2018. At that point, the entire city council will be elected on a by-district basis – only the mayor will have been elected city-wide. The question would be whether the voters of District 4 should select their own councilmember, or if that decision should be made by councilmembers for whom District 4 did not and could not vote.
Murray’s charter amendment proposes to answer that question in favor of allowing the voters of any district with a vacancy to choose their council representative themselves. Mayor Tait and Councilmember Jose F. Moreno argued relentlessly that “neighbors to elect neighbors” was a principal reason for adopting by-district elections. Depriving voters of the opportunity to choose their own councilmember in the event of a vacancy would run counter to that reasoning.
If placed on the June 5, 2018 ballot, Murray’s charter amendment would almost certainly be approved by the voters, in which case it would take effect this year.