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Our view: Selecting the next council member

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When the newly constituted Santa Clarita City Council holds its first meeting next month – minus Councilman Dante Acosta, plus newly re-elected Councilman Cameron Smyth – among the more urgent items it’s expected to take up is filling Acosta’s two remaining years in office.

Voters elected Acosta to the 38th Assembly District on Nov. 8.

The council will have two choices: It could call a special election, or it could appoint a replacement to fill Acosta’s remaining two-year term.

Considering the high cost of a special election – estimated at $175,000 – and the pervasive voter fatigue in the wake of the monstrous Nov. 8 ballot, city-watchers, including The Signal, expect the city to take the route of appointing a replacement.

The options on that avenue are broad, City Attorney Joseph Montes said this week. Anyone eligible to run for the office can be appointed by the council, he said.

Some supporters of TimBen Boydston, who came in third Nov. 8 in a two-council-seat race, are lobbying to have him appointed although he was voted out of office last week.

The problem is that saying he came in third in the election so he should receive a suddenly opened third seat on the council sets aside the fact that if three seats had been open, the election outcome may have been different.

Voters Nov. 8 believed they were electing two council members. If they thought they were electing three, we have no way of knowing how they would have voted.

It’s a bit like saying if Hillary Clinton had not been the Democratic presidential candidate, Donald Trump would have won the popular vote. There’s no way to predict how voters would cast their ballots based on the outcome of a race representing a different situation.

Under the list of choices open to the council, it could simply agree on one individual, appoint that person and be done with it, Montes said.

But we think the council’s approach in December 2006 – when Smyth, then a City Council member, was elected to the Assembly just as Acosta has been elected this month – was a good one, with the exception of a few flaws in execution.

In 2006 the council voted to invite citizens to apply for the empty council seat, and it voted to appoint a panel of community members to go through applications and rank contenders for the council’s consideration.

Unfortunately, since the council was made up of four members then, as it will be now if it appoints a replacement, the vote result in a tie. In the process of getting beyond the 2-2 deadlock, some compromises in the selection process were made.

We recommend a similar process this year, but one modeled more along the lines of recruiting a corporate CEO. Rather than the search committee weighting candidates using a numeric system, committee members should present a narrowed selection of about three choices, and the council should interview and select from among those.

Certainly everyone who ran for council on Nov. 8 should be encouraged to apply, provided he or she is still interested in the position.

The decision must be made after Smyth is seated on the council. The individual appointed will serve out the last two years of Acosta’s four-year term and should be eligible to seek election to the seat in 2018.

We believe this is a worthy compromise that preserves the goals of democracy as much as possible without tapping the city coffers for another round of balloting for an election-fatigued public.

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