Second Thoughts: Council caught in sticky appointment situation
by Jon Mendelson
Jan 11, 2013 | 5141 views | 10 10 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On Tuesday, Jan 15, four members of the Tracy City Council will decide who will fill the seat recently vacated by Bob Elliott, who was elected to the county board of supervisors Nov. 6 and sworn in earlier this week.

But the decision facing the council is about more than finding a qualified candidate to help govern the city — it’s also about Tracy residents and their perception of the political process as open or closed.

And when it comes to that decision and perception, the council seems to have painted itself into a corner.

If transparency was the ultimate priority, the City Council could have conducted a special election to determine who would replace Elliott. It’s a move I argued for in an earlier column.

But the price tag ($250,000) and timeline (the election couldn’t happen sooner than June) pushed the council into more pragmatic territory.

Short of an election, if finding the best-qualified candidate was the top concern, the council could have appointed a member but opened the process to all qualified Tracy residents. It’s what happened when Steve Abercrombie was appointed to his seat in 2006, and his presence on the governing board — which ended last year when he chose not to seek re-election — turned out pretty well for the city.

Instead, the council on Dec. 18 chose an appointment process that limited the candidate pool to those who finished behind successful challenger Nancy Young and incumbent Michael Maciel in the 2012 council campaign.

On paper, that leaves Ray Morelos, who finished third; Charles Manne, who finished fourth; and Roger Birdsall, who finished fifth, as possible replacements for Elliott.

In reality, the council decided it would choose between Morelos and Manne.

Birdsall in November told council members during a public meeting that they could best follow the will of the people by selecting the third-place finisher from the recently concluded general election.

Birdsall reiterated his stance this week and said he would not put himself forward for Elliott’s chair.

“If we want citizens involved, you have to prove to them and show them that their involvement really works and counts,” he told me. “I think that’s the part that was of concern to me.”

Seeking middle ground, the council split the difference between following the voters and exercising the council’s vested power to fill a vacancy by appointment. It was a good-faith compromise.

But I think the council unintentionally selected the worst possible combination when it comes to public perception — giving weight to the results of an election that has nothing to do with filling Elliott’s seat, while narrowing the candidate field and opening the process to the possibility of council politics and behind-the-scenes talk.

The real shame is that it takes the focus away from the candidates and will no doubt cast a pall over whoever is selected Tuesday.

Rightly or wrongly, if Manne is chosen, it will appear to many that council members did not want Morelos as a colleague. If the council goes with Morelos, there will be plenty of people who argue the council took the easy way out.

To be clear, this says nothing about the qualifications of Morelos or Manne.

Morelos has already served on the City Council, and since leaving office has been a respected volunteer and leader.

Manne is an upstanding member of the community and would likely serve ably if he’s appointed. And if he isn’t, I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran in 2014 and was elected.

Again, this is not about the candidates. This is strictly about the process.

At this point, the best way to maintain the integrity of the process is to select Morelos. Not because it’s him, per se, but because choosing the third-place finisher precludes the possibility of politics being played.

Just as importantly, there’s a lesson to learn from the past month’s appointment circus: The City Council needs a clear policy to deal with the appointment process.

Ideally, the policy would include a way for voters to have a more direct say in filling an empty council seat.

At the least, such a plan should ensure there is a consistent course of action that’s removed from the political pressures of the time.

No matter who is appointed Tuesday, I hope the new five-person council takes up the matter as soon as possible.

• Second Thoughts is a personal opinion column by Editor Jon Mendelson. Share your thoughts by emailing jmendelson@tracypress.com.
Comments
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Lumpia
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January 12, 2013
Wow!!! A twenty-five paragraph essay about the city appointed member? And no-thing say about Tracy Unified School who also appointed a new member. Absolutely nothing. No first or even second thoughts. I concluded that maybe the Tracy Press could give a rip about education?

And speaking of "public perception"? Does somebody at the Tracy Press have a hard one for the city? Anybody notice that whenever there is a well known liberal our community newspaper is there to beat the drum?

I trying to recall at what point did the Tracy Press become nothing more than an advertisement for any liberal who walks down the pike and quacks like a duck.

If they hear three liberals in a tizzy about the city at the coffee shop do they automatically think Ah there is the "public perception"? "We got a story now, boss". ------?

Seriously, whenever a Tracy Press reporter writes ... Our community has a "lesson to learn".... Why does the Tracy Press always parade a liberal. The liberals do not see this crap makes you look like a guest on the Jerry springer show?

I for one think this newspaper has become bottom of the barrel.
Ornley_Gumfudgen
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January 12, 2013
Lumpia

"If they hear three liberals in a tizzy about the city at the coffee shop do they automatically think Ah there is the "public perception"? "We got a story now, boss". ------?"

Thair warped version of th term investigative reportin. Go sit in th coffee shop an glean fer news. Don't have ta be all that accurate just so ya get th story down that ya heard second hand in th coffee shop.

Glad that I'm not th only one ta notice TP's continual harangue against th city.

But honestly, it's not all that different a mentality when ya hear people spewin thair venom when a black person commits a crime an they automatically thank that all blacks are bad when in reality, th segment of our entire society that is in fact bad is a single digit percentage of society an not th entire society as a whole.

Not everyone or everythang is bad, even though it cartainly sees th media would have us believe they are an actually promotes th idea that they are in th way they report th news.

If it fits th editors personal outlook an agenda it gets print. If it don't it's either not reported at all or skewed tawards th negative ta whip th general public inta an ignorant frenzy.

Thangs really are not as bad as they seem. In our nation even th poorest among us have it far better than people livin elsewhere on th planet an are wealthy by comparison.

But ya would never hear that truth printed in th media because most people really don't care an aren't that interested.

Well gotta busy day ahead of me so it's time ta get rollin. Have a good one yerself.

Ornley_Gumfudgen
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January 11, 2013
behonestguys

As a matter of fact I can say th same thang about th School Board. They handle millions of dollars in "development" monies and monies that are used ta run th schools.

Are ya tellin me that thair is no possibility of graft within th school system that would make me trust thair integrity any more or less than th elected members of th City Council?

I wonder, has thair ever been a City Council member that was on th school board or vice versa?

Oh right what was her name, here it is I thank, wasn't it Suzanne Tucker? A long time member of th TUSD school board an was elected ta th City Counsel.

Were thair any that went from th Counsel ta th elected position of th TUSD school board? Don't know.
Ornley_Gumfudgen
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January 11, 2013
Guess she lost her credibility an integrity when she left th TUSD board an joined City Council. If that's th case, did she really have any credibility an integrity when she served on th School Board?
Glowinthedark
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January 11, 2013
I don't get this. It is or isn't about the candidates?

If it is about the process, then why didn't anybody complain about Stevo? Or TUSD appointee?

Bitch, bitch, bitch.
Ornley_Gumfudgen
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January 11, 2013
Glowinthedark

Exactly. Could it be that th TP is only tryin ta generate news ta report an someone on th press don't like th folks on City Council? Seems ta be since everythang th TUSD board does gets by without a single negative comment yet City Council gets hammered on everythang they do when in reality both elected bodies run themselves virtually by th same playbook.

BTY, yes TP I failed th human test an after all human. But perhaps I wouldn't fail if th security words ya have me type were readable in th first place. Don't really like yer trite smart little diminutive comment. Still, with th abysmal way ya monitor these comment sections I understand completely why ya don't.

Question, what body of government, th City Council or th School Board levies an gets th preponderance of yer property tax monies? Just cus ya might not have children in school yer local School Board has a tremendous effect on yer property taxes, and rent if yer a renter, an yet when they appoint someone ta fill an elected position nothin negative is said about it. Why is that? Why th double standard?

Personal grudges? That seems ta be th only logical answer.

BTW, I have nothin against th Kelly Louis appointment th th TUSD board an feel he will do a fine job. I also feel th same way about what ever candidate th City Council eventually decides on as well. I just don't understand th political philosophy flip floppin when it comes ta th School Board appointment as compared ta th City Council appointment when in reality they are exactly th same under th same circumstances.
behonestguys
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January 11, 2013
The perception is that Tracy Unified Trustees have integrity and credibility - none of them appear to be in a developer's pocket. Can you say the same about the City Council, where millions are at stake?
Ornley_Gumfudgen
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January 11, 2013
Not pickin on ya behonestguys but it seems that perception an what is fact can be two entirely different thangs. Don't thank members of City Council are any better or worse than th elected members of TUSD school board. Just wonderin why many citizens perceive they are really any different when they are not.
me-here
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January 16, 2013
Because Abercrombe was not a pawn for Ives or Maciel..... that's important. And I wonder what in the world the two bullies, Maciel and Ivest, had so bitterly against Morelos. Made me want him more than ever. Manne better vote carefully or the $250K will be spent again on attorneys fees caused by the dueling twosome.

Just concerned....
NepotismSucks
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January 16, 2013
So, you would favor taxes? You would favor continuing Measure E, after it expires?


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