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

Mayor Kim Carr listens to a candidate
Mayor Kim Carr listens to a candidate speak on July 9. During Monday’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 / Staff Photographer)

The Huntington Beach City Council did not have enough votes to nominate a candidate. It also did not have enough votes to call for a special election.

As a result, Monday night’s special meeting to appoint a member to the vacant seventh seat could not be resolved.

The Council adjourned, vowing to return within seven days to resume negotiations. If the panel cannot agree on a replacement by the end of this month, a special election Nov. 2 that City Manager Oliver Chi estimates would cost the city about $1 million will be triggered.

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 Tito Ortiz, Dan Kalmick and Natalie Moser onto the dais.

Ortiz, whose resignation from the mayor pro tem position on June 1 created the opening, 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 initially nominate Van Der Mark for the position. 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 focus 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, Councilmember Ortiz did not honor the vote, and we are here.”

Local 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, was 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 4-2.

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, 4-2, and later 3-3 as Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Delgleize shifted in support of it. The other council members, though, remained unwilling to support that as an option.

“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.

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