Four members of the Brisbane City Council have deadlocked over the process to fill a council vacancy left by the sudden departure of veteran councilmember Sepi Richardson just prior to the end of the last year. Brisbane is one of the smaller cities located in northern San Mateo County, just north of South San Francisco, with a population of a little over 4,300 residents.
Richardson, who has served on the council since 1995 with one interruption, resigned with just under a year remaining in her term. Richardson’s former colleagues on the council met earlier this month to discuss how to replace her, either by appointment or Special Election. Fulfilling a council vacancy is not unheard of – Pacifica, San Carlos and Atherton have each had to deal with this problem in recent years.
The Pacifica Council in April 2012 agreed to fill Jim Vreeland, a long time Councilmember, with the selected interim appointee until the next election was held in November 2012, a regularly scheduled election, where the appointee runs for election to complete the remaining two years of the term.
The Town of Atherton decided to fill its own vacancy by holding a special mid-term election in June 2008, where James Dobbie was elected to the vacant seat formerly occupied by Alan Carlson.
Additionally, the City of San Carlos was unable reach a decision in May of 2012 on how to fill councilmember Andy Klien’s seat which he vacated for personal reasons in April of 2012. The Council had reached a unique solution to the problem by the unanimous agreement to fill seat with a November 2013 election and appoint an interim member, with the caveat they be asked to not run for the following full term. During a Council debate however, this caveat was pointed out to be unenforceable.
In Brisbane at present, the remaining four councilmembers appear to agree that an appointment to fill the 11 remaining months in the four-year term is likely the best approach, but a split in exactly how to make such an appointment was made public by current Mayor Ray Miller at the last council meeting on January 14.
It appears, according to Miller’s statements, that two councilmembers prefer to constrain an appointment to past councilmembers while two others wish to open the process to any and all eligible applicants – which means any resident of Brisbane who is a registered voter.
The deadlock has potential consequences. The date of Richardson’s resignation, determined to be December 29, 2012, will force the council to either make an appointment, or, by default, defer Richardson’s replacement to the electorate in the November General Election – the natural end of the existing term of the office anyway – within 60 days.
The deadline to make the decision, according to the city attorney, is February 27. A failure to make an appointment by then will potentially lock in a four-member council through November – perhaps.
Oddly, according to city staff, it may be possible to forgo an immediate decision, and allow the seat to be filled through the election that would have happened anyway and perhaps make an appointment later this year to boot. A determination about the legal possibility of a later appointment will be forthcoming at the next council meeting.
Underlying the split on the council regarding whom to appoint is perhaps the most interesting dynamic. By constraining an appointment to only former members of the council, it does limit the options to a handful of possibilities and begs the question about which former councilmembers may already be under consideration.
Brisbane council elections are determined by only a couple of hundred votes but at least two council incumbents have lost reelection bids in the past two elections. Former councilmember Michael Barnes lost reelection in 2009 after serving one term and veteran councilmember Cy Bologoff lost a reelection bid in 2011. Another past council veteran could also include Lee Panza who opted not to seek reelection in 2005.
Whatever the case may be, politics in the tiny hamlet of Brisbane have a bit of big city flavor as of late, and Brisbane has three models to choose from in terms of how to resolve this Council conundrum.
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