First things first
Elliott should resign as soon as possible so the council can address the business of replacing him. (As of 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, the city clerk’s office had not received his resignation.)
It’s true that a council that can deadlock at 2-2 is at a disadvantage, and Elliott could provide a decisive fifth vote until he takes the oath of office as supervisor Jan. 7.
But by sticking around, Elliott prevents the council from moving beyond his tenure — not surprisingly, by law the council cannot fill a position that is not officially vacant.
It also seems more appropriate to leave city decisions to those who will be answerable at the city level for the next two years.
As of press time, the upcoming Tuesday, Dec. 18, Tracy City Council meeting was set to include such vital and controversial business as the approval of two apartment complexes on Valpico Road and a discussion of a developer agreement involving the Ellis residential project.
Elliott has ably served the council, but he decided to seek and take a county-level office. It’s time for the esteemed Army colonel to pass the Tracy decision-making baton to someone else.
A little bit of history repeating
A similar situation presented itself in 2006, when then-Councilman Brent Ives was elected mayor and the council was left to fill his vacant seat.
Then as now, a race had been run for two City Council positions. And then as now, there was mounting public pressure to appoint the person who finished third in the campaign.
It just so happened that present Mayor Pro Tem Michael Maciel was the third-place finisher in that contest. But instead, Steve Abercrombie, who was not even a participant in the 2006 election, was named councilman.
Even though he lost out six years ago, Maciel favors that type of appointment process.
He has stated that the election for two council seats is a discrete event and its results cannot be extrapolated beyond that contest. Which seems logical.
His statements in 2006, however, seem to differ from his stance now.
Most of what the Tracy Press chronicled regarding the 2006 appointment is the process itself, which Maciel has charitably described as “nebulous.”
And he’s right — the 2006 procedure looked as if it were drawn up on the back of a barroom napkin.
But at the time, he didn’t shy away from the case that his third-place finish translated to community support.
“Seeing how this vacancy is occurring on the heels of the election, appointing someone based on the election results is the logical step,” Maciel said at the time, according to a Press report.
Now it’s Ray Morelos, not Maciel, championing the virtues of the third-place finisher.
Battle lines drawn
The Dec. 4 discussion regarding Elliott’s position didn’t produce much, except a clear outline of where the four other council members stand.
Ives joined Maciel to support soliciting applications and choosing a replacement from those who show interest.
Council members Nancy Young and Robert Rickman, meanwhile, seem set that the third-place finisher in the November race for two council seats should be appointed — or at least that the appointed council member should be one of the three people who finished short in November’s election.
The only thing everyone agreed on is that the special election option was dead on arrival.
City staff had that option literally X-ed out in the Dec. 4
PowerPoint presentation to council. For good measure, the council shot down the idea unanimously.
They’ll joust over the matter again Tuesday, Dec. 18.
Those I’ve spoken to, including city officials and council members, seem to think a compromise will sooner or later be hammered out.
But given the trenches occupied Dec. 4, at least one member of the council will need to occupy new ground for an agreement to be forged.
No matter what the City Council decides to do regarding Elliott’s replacement — appoint the third-place finisher, appoint someone else or turn it over to voters in a special election — questions of legitimacy will haunt this council until the 2014 election.
If the council appoints Morelos, who finished third in the November general election race for two council seats, there will be outcry that the council broke with precedent and closed off what should have been an open application process.
If the council opens up the process and chooses someone other than Morelos, accusations of bias and backroom dealing will be de rigueur at council meetings and coffee klatches.
And if the council opts for a special election, there will be no shortage of skinflints chastising the city for spending $250,000 to elect one person while reserve money is being used to patch an annual general fund deficit and public safety employees have agreed to salary and benefit concessions.
Welcome to public decision-making.
Council’s best bet
Despite the apparent no-win situation in which the council finds itself, one solution seems to stand above the others.
It’s not timely and it’s not pragmatic, but a special election is the most democratic way forward.
I fully understand the counter-arguments.
Appointing a member is obviously within the council’s purview, and it fits neatly into our nation’s tradition of republican representation — we elect people to make decisions on our behalf rather than put every matter of policy to a popular vote.
Also, an election means waiting until at least June to have a fifth council member, depriving the City Council of another voice in the debate and a potential tiebreaking vote.
But when it comes down to it, there are some principles worth paying for. Accurately representing the will of the people should be one of them.
• Second Thoughts is a personal opinion column by Editor Jon Mendelson. Share your thoughts by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.