Huntington Beach City Council hits standstill on filling seat vacated by Tito Ortiz

A woman sits behind a microphone
Mayor Kim Carr listens to a candidate speak on July 9. During this week’s special meeting, the City Council reached a stalemate over appointing a person to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of Tito Ortiz.
(Scott Smeltzer / Times Community News)

With not enough votes to nominate a candidate to fill the council seat left vacant by the resignation of Tito Ortiz, nor the needed votes to call a special election, the Huntington Beach City Council finds itself at a standstill on how to proceed.

Before adjourning their meeting Monday evening, council members pledged to return within seven days to resume negotiations. If they cannot agree on a replacement by the end of the month, a special election will be triggered by law and set for Nov. 2. City Manager Oliver Chi estimates that would cost the city about $1 million.

Monday’s 140-minute special meeting was marked by audience members giving their opinions loudly, sometimes by talking over council members. Many in the crowd were there in support of Gracey Van Der Mark, who finished fourth in last November’s election that brought Ortiz, Dan Kalmick and Natalie Moser onto the dais.


Ortiz, who was serving as mayor pro tem when he resigned from the City Council on June 1, also attended the meeting in support of Van Der Mark. Her supporters wore shirts and carried signs asking the council to “honor the vote” by appointing her, since she was the first runner-up.

Councilman Erik Peterson, though, was the only one to nominate Van Der Mark. Per the predetermined rules, council members could bring up to three names to nominate of the 105 people who interviewed on July 9 and 10.

“It is time to shift the community back to our community, to public safety, and away from extremism,” Moser said at one point, above jeers from the crowd. “The work of our city does not stop because an elected official abandons his position. … We did have an election. There were three open seats. Tito Ortiz, Dan Kalmick and myself were elected. There is no fourth place. There isn’t. There were three open seats, and here we are. Unfortunately, Council Member Ortiz did not honor the vote, and we are here.”

Business owner and council hopeful Dom Jones also showed up with supporters, but she did not garner a nomination from any member of the council. Jill Hardy, who termed out from the City Council for the second time last fall but threw her hat back in the ring after Ortiz resigned, also failed to get a nomination.

After three rounds of voting, the council was down to three names: civil rights attorney Rhonda Bolton, longtime AT&T executive Jeff Morin and Van Der Mark. Bolton had three votes, those of Moser, Kalmick and Mayor Kim Carr, but they could not come up with the fourth vote required to appoint her.

Individual motions to appoint Van Der Mark and Morin both failed 4 to 2.

When it became clear that they were making no progress, Councilman Mike Posey called for a special election, to applause from the audience. It was quickly seconded by Peterson.

“We’re really at a stalemate on moving forward and naming somebody tonight, and the only thing that’s fair is a special election,” Posey said. “Whether it costs $1 million or $2 million, that’s the cost of democracy. ... There is a three-and-a-half year term still left. We have 85% of the term still left, and that’s significant.”


But the motion for a special election failed 4 to 2, and later 3 to 3 as Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Delgleize shifted in support of it. The other council members remained unwilling to support that.

“Our charter states that it’s our job to fill this seat,” Kalmick said. “The weight is on our shoulders, I believe, to come with a consensus pick, because $1 million is a lot of money that could do a lot of good for our city. That’s a lot of roads that we could pave.”

Van Der Mark said after the meeting that she believed a special election would be the fairest thing to do at this point.

“I ran because I got tired of not being heard, and that’s how the community feels,” she said.

Szabo writes for Times Community News.