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Judge Rules Bowman Won Seat in Cypress : Says Abstentions Must Be Regarded as ‘Yes’ Votes in Replacing Davis on the City Council

Times Staff Writer

A Superior Court judge, tackling a rarely tested legal dilemma, Tuesday ordered the city of Cypress to seat a local Realtor on its City Council after a disputed selection process that hinged on controversy surrounding the Cypress Downs development.

Claiming victory after the decision, 50-year-old Walter Bowman said he expects to be installed within days in a seat left vacant by the February resignation of former Mayor William Davis. His selection was stalled by a debate over how abstentions by City Council members should be counted.

But the council will meet in closed session today to consider an immediate appeal of the decision by Judge Eileen C. Moore. Some members of the split council hope to block Bowman and put the seat up for a special election.

Calling Moore’s decision “an interference in the electoral process,” Mayor Pro Tem John Kanel--an opponent of Bowman--said in an interview, “The thousands of citizens of Cypress are, in effect, disenfranchised from voting a fifth council member into office because of the actions of this judge.”

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Surviving a whittled-down list of 14 candidates, Bowman was one of two finalists considered by the council at a special April 10 meeting to fill the vacant seat.

Bowman drew criticism from some council members, including Kanel, for what they saw as his support of the controversial Cypress Downs project, a business and recreational proposal on 167 acres surrounding the Los Alamitos Race Course.

Voters defeated the Cypress Downs plan by a margin of almost 2 to 1 in a special February ballot measure, but the issue remains hotly debated, with state and federal actions still pending.

At the April 10 meeting, council members Cecilia L. Age and Margaret M. Arnold voted in favor of Bowman’s appointment to the fifth council seat, but Kanel and council member Gail H. Kerry abstained. Kanel said Monday that he opposed Bowman’s selection but decided not to cast a ballot either way for fear of appearing “mean-spirited in voting against him.”

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The deadlocked council interpreted the result--2 votes in favor of Bowman, with 2 abstentions--as a rejection of his appointment, since a majority had not been reached in his favor. And it scheduled a special election for Sept. 12 to let voters fill the seat.

But Judge Moore’s decision Tuesday in favor of Bowman effectively cancels the election, pending a possible appeal before then, city officials said.

Moore found that, under Cypress’ city code, the abstentions must be counted as “yes” votes in support of the particular motion.

Bowman attorney Andrew Arczynski of Brea had argued that the code was designed to “put the fire to the feet of the council members,” forcing them to vote one way or another on issues, rather than “hiding” behind an abstention.

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Moore rejected the argument by lawyers for the city that a separate City Charter, which would have required a clear majority for Bowman to take office, should override the language of the city code.

Lawyers in the case said it was perhaps only the third time in state history that a judge has had to interpret the meaning of an abstention in order to declare the result of a disputed contest.

“I love it,” Bowman said after the vote. “Justice has been served, and I’m very excited to get started on the council.”

Owner of Bowman Real Estate in Stanton and a longtime participant in civic activities, Bowman said that “I’d always wanted to get into politics and I’m finding now that I have the time to do it.”

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Bowman added that if he is seated as a council member, he is confident that city politicians can move past the controversy over his selection without any lasting bitterness.

But others were less certain. Council member Arnold--who nominated Bowman for the vacant seat--and City Manager Darrell Essex each predicted that inflamed tensions may be an inevitable fallout from the Bowman affair.

And Mayor Pro Tem Kanel added: “This whole thing certainly is not going to leave a good taste in the mouths of this city’s leaders or its voters. . . . This could cause political chaos.”


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