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Orange Council Likely to Name Successor : Vacancy: Three members favor appointing a replacement for Steiner rather than spending money on a special election. One vows to fight for a vote.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The City Council is likely to appoint a successor to fill out the term of William G. Steiner, who will vacate his council seat later this month to join the County Board of Supervisors.

Though a final decision on filling Steiner’s seat won’t be made for several weeks, three council members said Thursday that they favor appointing a replacement rather than spending the $20,000 to $30,000 it would cost to hold a special election.

But Councilwoman Joanne Coontz vowed to fight for a special election, arguing that “the people have the right to decide this.”

Steiner, who served on the City Council since 1988, leaves with two years left on his term. On Wednesday, he was appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson to the Board of Supervisors, replacing Don R. Roth, who resigned.

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Under the city charter, the council has one month to either appoint a successor or schedule a special election for November.

The last two council vacancies were filled by appointment. Steiner was appointed in 1988 and Councilman Mike Spurgeon was appointed in 1990. Both went on to win elections to full terms.

Those who favor appointing Steiner’s successor argue that such a move would quickly return the council to full strength at a time when the city is facing myriad fiscal decisions.

“We have very critical issues in this city that need to be addressed,” Spurgeon said. “We can’t wait until November with only four people on the council.”

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A four-person council might lead to tie votes on key issues and “could cause some problems,” said Mayor Gene Beyer, who also supports making an appointment.

Coontz, however, said it’s the “public’s right” to elect council members.

“We spend $30,000 on all kinds of things that are not as important than this,” she said. “It’s up to the electorate to decide.”

Councilman Fred L. Barrera said he would only support making an appointment if enough qualified candidates applied for the post.

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“I feel that if we have six good people to pick from, my constituents would feel that (making an appointment) would be a fair way,” he said. “If we have just one or two people, it makes it seem like it’s already been decided.”

Spurgeon and others also noted that an appointed council member would have to face voters in 1994 in order to stay in office. They complained that special elections are not always the best barometer of public opinion because only 10% to 12% of eligible voters actually go to the polls.

Most observers agreed that it is too early to anoint front-runners in the race to succeed Steiner. Beyer said Thursday that he has received calls from four people interested in the job. He declined to name them.

Both Steiner and Spurgeon listed planning commissioners Randy Bosch, William Cathcart and Mark Murphy as people who would make good council members, citing their knowledge of fiscal and planning issues and their years of community service.

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“Whoever comes in as city councilman or woman will need a strong knowledge of city government,” Steiner said. “We need someone who really knows the issues.”

Spurgeon agreed, saying of Bosch, Cathcart and Murphy: “I think they’d be leading candidates in anyone’s book. They are honest and well-respected. . . . We need someone who can hit the ground running, not someone who will need a year in training wheels.”

None of the three men could be reached for comment.

Beyer declined to name people he thinks might succeed Steiner. When asked about Bosch, Cathcart and Murphy, he said: “All three of them are outstanding people.”

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