PERSPECTIVE: CV Should Allow Voters to Fill Council Vacancy

PERSPECTIVE: CV Should Allow Voters to Fill Council Vacancy

Created: 10 December, 2022
Last update: 11 December, 2022

The City of Chula Vista now has two vacancies among its city elected officials and the Council should allow voters -not politicians themselves- to decide who can best represent the residents of the 2nd largest city in the county.

One vacancy is in the City Attorney role where Deputy City Attorney Simón Silva passed away two months before the November election where he was running to replace outgoing City Attorney Glen Googins.

Silva, who died on September 3rd after a long illness, remained on the November 8th ballot and posthumously received more votes than his opponents, local attorney Dan Smith.

Silva’s victory immediately creates a vacancy in the elected City Attorney’s four-year term, and, under the City’s Charter provisions, the Council must call for a special election to fill the vacancy because more than half of the term -in this case the entire term- remains unexpired.

But, the City also has another vacancy to deal with after Councilman Steve Padilla was elected to the State Senate last month and was sworn-in to that seat last week, leaving less than half of his four-year term open.

Under the City’s Charter, the Council can chose to fill a vacancy through an appointment process and decide amongst themselves who to select when vacancies occur with 25 months or less of an unexpired term remaining.

In the event of an appointment, a person selected to fill a vacancy is limited from running for a full term in the next election, so they could only serve as a temporary officeholder for the remainder of the term.

The Charter, however, also allows the Council to call a special election to give the public the opportunity to fill any vacancy, and then that elected person could later run for re-election in two years.

Special elections are relatively expensive because they are usually held only to decide one urgent issue, but, here, the City Council can allow voters to fill both of these vacancies in the same special election, basically filling the Council vacancy for free.

Since the City must already call a special election for the City Attorney’s vacancy, deciding to fill the Council vacancy themselves would be hard to justify given that the additional costs would be marginal, if any at all.

Although the City’s Clerk has estimated that a special election could cost up to $2 million, voters approved Charter changes in the November election that will now allow the City to hold a mail-in ballot only election to reduce costs.

Letting voters fill both vacancies is, by far, the more democratic -with a small “d”- thing to do, especially when the Council and Mayor will now be divided on partisan lines among three Democrats and the new incoming Republican Mayor.

Current Councilman John McCann, a registered Republican, won the race for Mayor in last month’s election, defeating perennial candidate Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, who was endorsed by Democratic Councilwoman Andrea Cardenas.

The other two votes on the Council will be incoming Democrats Carolina Chavez and Jose Preciado.

Having partisan politicians decide an appointment to what should be an elected office would disenfranchise voters in the City’s 3rd Council District since none of the other three Councilmembers received any votes in that area of East Chula Vista, and would play into the perception (or reality) of partisan politics being injected into what should be non-partisan local elected positions.

Chula Vista voters just went through the most expensive campaign in the City’s history with more than $1.5 million having been spent by the candidates and outside groups in the Mayor’s race alone.

But, given that a special election must be called for the City Attorney’s vacancy anyways, it would be undemocratic to argue that an appointment should be used to select the next Councilmember to represent the over 60,000 residents of Millenia, Otay Ranch, and Sunbow when an election will already be taking place. 

The Chula Vista City Council will be deciding how to proceed with these two vacancies at its December 20th public meeting.

We urge the new Mayor and Councilmembers to give voters the opportunity to select their own leaders through an open election process that will allow candidates to explain to the public their views on important issues facing our community.

Let the democratic process -not political deal making- deliver our next elected leaders.