Our View: Have a plan for vacant council seats

Our View

We owe an apology – to at least the 24 Santa Clarita City Council applicants who participated in our Jan. 12 public forum for the vacant fifth City Council seat. And also to the 50 or so engaged citizens who turned out that chilly, rainy night to become informed during the forum co-sponsored by The Signal and College of the Canyons.

We thought we were involving you in an open and democratic process in a bid to help select the best from among 50 candidates to replace Dante Acosta.

Instead, we apparently wasted your time.

True, Councilwoman Marsha McLean – one of the four who had the power to select – did sit through the entire two-plus-hour-long forum. We applaud her for that, and so did the audience.

Another council member made an appearance, brief though it was.

But otherwise there was little indication the four-member council – which had taken upon itself to decide for the people who would serve them – had any interest in what the people thought.

The public was invited to speak to the issue before the official council interviews with candidates – three minutes each – began Jan. 17, but there was no opportunity to speak after council members announced their choice of Bill Miranda, and none before he was sworn in on Tuesday.

What’s worse, Miranda himself appeared as disinterested in embracing his new constituency as the longtime council members he joined.

He did not respond to The Signal’s questionnaire sent out to all 50 applicants who filed. He did not participate in the public forum at COC Jan. 12. And he did not participate in radio station KHTS’s interviews with applicants, which were recorded and posted on its website.

Reached by telephone Friday, Miranda initially said he didn’t participate in those opportunities to go public with his interest in the seat because “it wasn’t part of the process.”

“I had a full schedule with two careers and was not able to fit it into the schedule,” he added. “I don’t want to make it seem like I don’t want to meet the public. It was just such a tight schedule.”

Any haste in the schedule was created by the council. Acosta’s imminent departure for Sacramento had been known since Nov. 9.

Perhaps most alarming in the entire process of replacing Acosta was Councilwoman Laurene Weste’s response when asked about vetting and background checking.

“We don’t have a responsibility to do background checks,” she said of fellow council members. “But you saw all the people who applied. Most of them are known quantities.”

So apparently, after taking from the public its choice for what would normally be a duly elected representative, council members did little more than review the limited content of applicant packets and conduct three-minute interviews with most contenders.

We can rail all we want about how the public was cut out of the process for replacing Acosta, but we’d rather propose a solution. We have now seen the city twice replace council members who left office. It’s not a frequent occurrence, but no doubt it will happen again.

We call for city policymakers to set up an accepted process for future such occurrences, then make it policy. If council members want to avoid costly special elections in the future, they need to collaborate with the public and come up with a process that’s acceptable to all parties.

Let’s start the discussion with a citizens’ advisory committee. Transparency needs to be restored.

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