Councilwoman Nancy Young worries that opening future appointments to vacant City Council seats to any Tracy resident could lead to corruption.
The council discussed codifying rules for appointing new council members at the regular meeting Tuesday. Council members decided to look at a new process to select people to fill open council seats to avoid some problems and divisiveness surrounding previous appointments in 2006 and 2012.
“In the event following an election that we only consider those who have run,” Young said, referring to the process the council used 18 months ago to appoint Councilman Charles Manne, “it seems to me those who are really serious about being that position will take the time, the energy, the effort to fundraise, to talk, to get out there, instead of just showing that they can interview very well.”
City Attorney Daniel Sodergren explained that by law, council members can either appoint someone to an open seat or call for a special election.
“To the extent that the council wants to appoint to fill the vacancy, there’s really no requirements under state law on how that be done. Really, the council can choose any method it wants,” Sodergren said.
No council member supported holding costly special elections.
The debate was split throughout the 44-minute discussion between making a city policy that would restrict the eligibility list to candidates who ran but did not win a seat and establishing a process that would open the appointment process to all.
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Maciel was the first to suggest that any eligible Tracy voter should be able to apply for an open position.
“I believe personally that the best option is to open it for applicants,” he said. “The council should interview them in open session and make a decision.”
Councilman Robert Rickman was adamant that the process should be transparent but supported limiting the list of applicants.
“Whatever process that we do have, I think we should have a rigid procedure in which the public can see exactly what we are going to do,” he said.
Young said that her opinion had not changed since 2012, when Manne was appointed, and that the council should respect the number of votes even runner-up candidates receive.
“I think when people have actually spoken to say, as a community, yes, we want this person, maybe they didn’t come in first or second, maybe they’re not far behind in third,” she said. “I just have a gut feeling that it leaves so much room for, for lack of a better word, corruption. I remember my first time having to deal with this and all the different calls and all the different pressures. I had just got on City Council and ‘You had better pick this person.’”
Manne said his experience going through the process informed his opinion that appointments should be open to all.
“I think there’s no harm in just keeping it open,” Manne said. “The harm is in if you keep it closed. You have a limited pool to choose from and there may not be a pool to choose from at all. Miss Young’s comment that it’s really important that the candidates are vetted, then her vote might be for somebody who went through the vetting process and was on the ballot. As the individual voter on the council, you can limit your individual pool down to the candidates who just ran, but it doesn’t hurt to have additional applicants from the community who did not run.”
Mayor Brent Ives said he strongly believed the council should avail itself of as many community viewpoints as it could to find the best council member.
“I don’t think it should be limited to any number of any people at any time,” Ives said, acknowledging that candidates who ran the race might have an advantage in the process. “It’s going to make sense that if anybody has run for election, that they‘re going to be more well prepared to be able to articulate their positions than others anyway and probably will come out on top.”
At the end of the conversation, the council instructed the city staff, with a 3-2 consensus, to draft an appointment process that would be open to any eligible Tracy resident.
The process will also include collecting questions from the public to be used in interviewing council applicants, a requirement suggested by Rickman and supported unanimously by the council.
The city staff will return with a draft procedure at a future meeting.
Council will discuss lengthening mayoral terms
The council members also voted 3-1 to discuss at a future meeting whether they should change the length of a mayor’s term in office.
Ives brought the issue up, saying it makes little sense to have mayoral terms of two years when terms for council members are four years.
“Having been the only one who has served as mayor here, I can tell you that two two-year terms is limiting,” Ives said to the other members of the council.
Ives said he waited until he was going to leave office before suggesting that the council revisit the issue of term length so it would not seem self-serving.
Tracy did not start voting directly for a mayor until 1986. Starting in 1910, the public voted for council members and then the council selected the mayor from its own ranks to serve a one- or two-year term. The office would rotate among council members. The council did not change the tradition of shorter terms for mayor even when direct elections began 28 years ago.
In the November 2008 election, in which more than 67 percent of Tracy residents voted for term limits, the language of the ballot measure did not change the length of the mayor’s term.
Rickman was not in favor of even discussing the issue.
“I don’t think we should move forward,” he said, adding that public support for the current length in office was overwhelming. “I know there’s been some talk that the term limits could be damaging. I haven’t heard that from anyone else.”
City Attorney Daniel Sodergren clarified what the council would be legally able to consider under California code.
“The term limit provisions say that council members and the mayor can only serve two terms. Under General Law City, the term for council members is four years,” Sodergren said. “But you can have the term for mayor either be two or four years.”
Ives, Manne and Young voted to put the item on a future agenda, with Rickman dissenting. Maciel, who has announced his candidacy for mayor in November, abstained from the conversation and vote.
Council approves first permit parking zone
The council unanimously approved a pilot program for a permit parking zone on Berverdor Avenue and 12th Street between Mae Avenue and East Street. The program was adopted in response to resident complaints about the behavior of Tracy High School students who use those streets and park and walk to school.
Permit-only parking between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday on Berverdor and 12th is expected to begin in 30 days.
• Contact Michael Ellis Langley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 830-4231.