Arcata City Council to appoint Wheetley’s successor

Tthe 2017 Arcata City Council at the dais: (Left to right) Councilmember Paul Pitino, Councilmember Michael Winkler, Mayor Susan Ornelas, Vice Mayor Sofia Pereira, and Councilmember Mark Wheetley. Photo courtesy City of Arcata

 Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – With Councilmember Mark Wheetley leaving the Arcata City Council March 1 to take a job as Fortuna’s city manager, the council has decided to appoint a replacement rather than hold a special election. The new councilmember will serve out the remainder of Wheetley’s term of office, through November of next year.

The council’s options were to appoint a new member, hold a special election or wait until the next general municipal election in November 2018. Another option was to pass a new ordinance specifying councilmember replacement procedures.

According to a staff report, the county’s Elections Division estimated costs for a special election this November at up to $25,000, while an all-mail ballot in August would cost about $45,000.

Mayor Susan Ornelas said that an estimated 90 percent of the responses to a query she made on Facebook were supportive of an appointment. “We voted you guys in; we trust your point of view; appoint,” was how she described the consensus.

Councilmember Paul Pitino, a strong advocate of putting the matter to a vote, said an election would pique interest in democracy and stimulate public involvement. “It does support people voting for their representatives, instead of us choosing,” Pitino said.

Councilmember Michael Winkler said turnout was “extremely poor” in a 2005 special election held to replace Councilmember Elizabeth Connor –one which, ironically, resulted in Wheetley’s election.

“I think that there are a lot better things we can do with $20,000,” Winkler said.

Ornelas advocated interviewing applicants for the post in public. “We could always change our mind,” she said.

Councilmember Sofia Pereira said that while she is “conflicted about it,” constituents have told her an appointment would be fine. She said the process could include a candidate forum and other public involvement features of an election. “Emulating that as much as possible would be a critical piece,” she said.

“My goal is to get the best councilmember here,” Ornelas said. She said she wanted someone capable and open-minded, “without a pre-opinion.”

Pitino said that if it requires multiple meetings and staff time, an appointment process could end up costing as much as an election. He continued to argue for one, saying that the democracy is under stress nationally, and the council shouldn’t further “try to subvert that.”

This brought a swift rebuke from Ornelas, who called the term “inciting.”

“We shouldn’t use that kind of terminology,” she said.

Council and staff chewed over possible procedures for making an appointment. A thorough application will be developed for applicants, with information posted on a city web page. The appointment will have to take place within 60 days of Wheetley’s March 1 departure, after which the matter would automatically go to the voters in November.

On a 3–1 vote, with Pitino dissenting, the council directed staff to draft a possible appointment procedure and start taking applications for the vacant position.

“We shouldn’t use that kind of terminology,” she said.

Council and staff chewed over possible procedures for making an appointment. A thorough application will be developed for applicants, with information posted on a city web page. The appointment will have to take place within 60 days of Wheetley’s March 1 departure, after which the matter would automatically go to the voters in November.

On a 3–1 vote, with Pitino dissenting, the council directed staff to draft a possible appointment procedure and start taking applications for the vacant position.







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