Second Thoughts: Filling seat a tricky issue for council
by Jon Mendelson
Dec 14, 2012 | 6163 views | 9 9 comments | 834 834 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Since watching tape of the Tracy City Council’s Dec. 4 deadlock about how to fill Councilman Bob Elliott’s seat when he resigns to take a position on the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, there have been plenty of thoughts rattling around in my head.

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.

Council’s Catch-22

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
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December 30, 2012
Please do not appoint another downtown business owner. The last lady ran her business into the ground and used a council seat to blame it on the permit process.

I don't trust the downtown business owners they all fought like cats and dogs and tried to raise rents to keep the downtown empty for decades.

The burrito castle on the corner was used as a headquarters for the Tracy Liberals. It is very biased. And once they hosted a party for an expensive courthouse that California actually ended up canceling the project.

It is known as the place where liberal ideas are served with refried beans.
December 23, 2012
Well, the City Council has squandered more money that $250,000 on lawsuits and other of their ideas, it would seem that's a small price to pay for Tracy getting who they want for Elliott's council seat rather than having Ives and Maciel get a cohort of theirs appointed. That could really be expensive and against what would be good for Tracy by many citizen's opinion.

By appointment, I would appove of Ray Morelos. He attends the council meetings and knows the background of the issues. He would not rubber stamp everything Ives and Maciel comes up with.

December 25, 2012
Me-here: you obviously don't attend the council meetings or watch them on TV. Mr. Morelos does not attend the meetings and when he does, he cuts out early.
December 14, 2012
I'd have to agree with Mendelson on this one. Let the people decide who the 5th person will be. That's the democratic way of doing it and you avoid dirty backroom deals being cut by avoiding the appointment process. And through an election, the 5th person would have the aura of legitimacy around him or her as having been chosen by the people. Also, as one man said at the December 4th council meeting, $250k is a small price to pay to maintain the integrity of government, especially in light of those who have given their lives for our way of government over the course of our history. Does that mean the men and women who died for our system of government were suckers? I don't think so! As for the potential of deadlock between now and June on the council, let the 4 learn how to work together and learn (or re-learn) the concepts of compromise and working things out by talking things through. That is the first lesson we were all taught when we were in kindergarten - maybe our politicians need to re-learn that lesson so things can get done and the public benefit is served.
December 14, 2012
Jon and I are in agreement.

Someone will have to offer me a good explanation as to how a body of four are in the best position to know who the 5th person should be on the council? The votes on November 6th only determined who, of the 5 in the running, the voters picked for the two open seats, as voters could only vote for two. The winners, Maciel and Young, garnered over 18,000 votes combined. The other three on the ballot received fewer than 17,000 combined, and those were relatively close, with just 1700 dividing 3rd place and last place. It could be said, if perhaps three candidates received a large amount of votes and two others received very few, you have a pretty clear 3rd choice, but the numbers do not show that.

Given the clear bias the sitting council would have built-in to the process of selecting a person who could be a future deciding vote, the council really has no choice but to call for a special election in June.
December 14, 2012
Jon is right on the money...and there are many, many who agree. Let the voters decide!
December 30, 2012
Well, that didn't happen. We can now just hope Rickman and Young hold enough power to appoint one of the three who will be independent and not on Maciel/Ives total agenda.We have GOT to stop the present runaway power of Maciel and Ives.

They are smart and know their job. I will give them that. It's just that they are obsessed with their own agenda with Surland/developers. Look the legal messes they have cost us.
December 30, 2012
Why do you even care? You (me-here in another blog) already suggested they spend the money on the airport instead of the election. You are a total flip floper. Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed?

December 30, 2012
Me-here is not just a flip flop on this issue of appointing a member. He is another totally clueless TRACK clone. First Surland is paying the fees. Second he confuses Surland with developers plural and third he assumes all developers are automatically supported at city hall. I have watched several developers come and go. Surland is the only one to put all his cards on the table. And everybody downtown knows where a CHP was at the alehouse all the time. The same place where they brewed lies about crime stats and the Janet. We are talking about a cop who said he wanted to fix crime and then frequented a witch hunt headquarters. Subsequently what did he ever do except to eat drink and be merry downtown?

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