The newly elected Mayor and City Council will be formally installed at the upcoming meeting on Tuesday. One of the first matters that will come before them is what to do about filling the vacancy created by the unexpired councilmember term of now Mayor Pat Furey. Filling this vacancy is critical as the individual could easily end up serving as a councilmember for the next 10 years as the initial two year period would not count against the two term limit. The Council has two options: they can either use their authority to appoint a new member; or they can decide to hold a special election to fill the position. Either way, the decision is sure to cause a stir within the community.
After a recently concluded divisive mayoral election, selecting someone by appointment may lead to further fissures in the community. Should the Council choose this option, a possible selection, and probably the least controversial choice would be Leilani Kimmel-Dagastino. It could be argued that she earned the appointment by finishing 5th in the recent election – only one slot shy of the winner’s circle.
Dagastino, however, is a Republican and was heavily supported by that party in the recent election. Newly elected Mayor Furey is a Democrat. He may risk alienating his base by selecting a Republican, such as Dagastino, to the position. No other viable Democratic candidates remain among the pool of 12 unsuccessful candidates in the past election as the field was dominated by Republicans. That may be why rumors are swirling that Furey is looking beyond the recent field of candidates in search of an appointee. Some voices, such as those found here, are claiming that a backdoor deal has already been cut to appoint Ray Uchima. Such a decision will likely not to be a popular one amongst the community at large.
Given the above, I hope the Council will give more consideration to allowing the voting public to decide the matter through a special election. Sadly, the idea of a special election seems to have gained little traction with the Council due to the expense. The City Clerk, who provided an unsubstantiated estimate of $200K for the costs, admitted in the staff report that the City has not solicited a firm quote. I believe it would be a shame for the Council to move to appoint someone, especially an individual that didn’t run in the recent election, without exercising due diligence in order to gain a full understanding of the actual costs associated with conducting the election.
A quick Internet search reveals that the costs of an election can vary widely depending on how the election is conducted. Vote by Mail options reduce costs significantly. The cost of that option can be reduced even further by requiring voters to provide their own return postage. I found some information showing that cities utilizing the vote by mail option reported costs as little as $1.25 per voter. California cities such as Lake Forest and Livermore recently held special elections at a total cost of $39K and $50K respectively. To further reduce costs, Torrance could even consider options such as limiting the special election to only those that voted in the June election. My point here is that there are options available that are worth fully considering before the council rushes to make an appointment.
Just in the last few months, Torrance has approved expenditures such as $75K for AYSO banners put on city street lights, $146K to promote ridesharing amongst city employees, and $75K to hold an hour and a half optional ethics class. The Council didn’t blink an eye in approving these, and other more costly measures, yet seems to be balking a great deal at the cost of holding an election; something that is at the core of our democratic and governmental process. Why is that?