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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : How Not to Fill a Vacancy

The struggle to find a way out of Irvine’s election-process mess proceeds haltingly. There’s a solution on the table that would work, but the City Council has gotten bogged down in its political ramifications instead of doing what would be best for the city.

Ever since voters decided to directly elect their mayor for two-year terms, city elections have been mind-boggling. The confusion centers on what happens when voters elect a mayor who already holds a seat on the council, thus creating a vacancy. That’s happened twice, and the arguments over filling the vacancy already have cost the city about $200,000 in legal bills. The court’s judgment: The present law, which gives the seat to the candidate with the next highest number of votes, probably is unconstitutional because it allows a losing candidate to fill the vacated seat.

Obviously, a new plan is needed. But what? The City Council appointed an ad hoc committee--composed of two City Council members and the city’s manager, clerk and attorney--to study the matter. It recommended that voters choose an alternate who would take office only if a current council member were elected mayor. Its virtues are that voters would know up front what they were being asked to decide, and the expense and turnout problem of a special election would be avoided.

But the City Council got involved in a discussion of various scenarios that might benefit either liberals or conservatives. For example, what if the two camps inadvertently combined to elect a candidate merely acceptable to both--but not either’s first choice?

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It’s a concern that shouldn’t be surprising in a city as polarized politically as Irvine has been. But it actually might be good if the alternate system produced a moderate candidate capable of compromise. There’s no harm in more study, since the next election is some time off. But the City Council should keep one thing foremost in mind: What would be the best and most efficient way to run city elections?


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