(Pasadena Weekly, 11/1/12)
By André Coleman 11/01/2012
Concerned that an unelected appointee could be casting votes on some of the biggest issues facing Pasadena, some local activists are demanding community members be given a say in replacing Councilman Chris Holden should he be successful Tuesday in his bid for a seat in the state Assembly.
By most accounts, Holden — a Democrat whose Council District 3 includes portions of Northwest Pasadena and mid-city, north of Colorado Boulevard — is expected to beat Republican Donna Lowe in the race for the Assembly seat in the 41st District. A Holden win would trigger a City Charter provision calling for the City Council to appoint a replacement within 75 days of Holden’s resignation from the council. If elected Tuesday, Holden would be sworn into the Assembly in late December. California is among nine states in which legislators assume office in December following a general election.
Although Holden’s District 3 council seat is up for election in March, his replacement would remain on the council until May 7, when local elected officials are sworn into office.
The person selected to replace Holden in the wake of a win would not be able to run for the position in the March 5 municipal elections but would have a say, and possibly a vote, on such weighty issues as the Rose Bowl renovation project, currently millions of dollars over budget, general plan updates and the Heritage Square housing development project in District 3.
That person could also be involved in discussions on controversial plans to connect the 710 and 210 freeways, deliberations with the NFL to allow a team to play in the Rose Bowl and the possible resolution of lawsuits filed in relation to the officer-involved shooting death of 19-year-old Kendrec McDade last March.
“We need to clarify the [replacement] procedure immediately,” said community activist Martin Gordon. “When I first considered it, I said, ‘Who cares?’ But considering what could be coming up, I want someone politically savvy and competent seated. We really need to get together as a community and start talking about bringing someone forward, but we can’t so that until the process is clarified.”
The City Charter does not specify a specific selection process for the seat. According to the charter, “If a vacancy occurs among any other members of the City Council, the remaining members shall within 75 days after such occurrence appoint a qualified resident voter of the unrepresented district who shall hold office until the office is filled at the next general municipal election.
“If the City Council cannot agree on one person to fill the vacancy,” the document continues, “the replacement shall be chosen by lot.”
In essence, the council could vote for a replacement, appoint a committee to make the selection or hold a secret ballot among themselves. The last option was exercised in 1986, when then-Mayor Bill Bogaard resigned from what was called the Board of City Directors. Replacement candidates William Cathey and former Mayor Katie Nack each received three council votes, forcing a second vote that led to Cathey’s winning the seat. Cathey later ran for the seat when that term ended, but lost to Nack, despite what some considered an unfair advantage gained through his short experience on the council.
Bogaard said Friday that not only would the community be informed of the process in the case of Holden’s departure, but that the council would most likely not make the appointment until after the nomination period for the March 5 election ended on Dec. 7. That way, the mayor explained, no candidates could gain an unfair advantage by being appointed to the seat and running as a faux-incumbent after serving less than six months on the council.
“There are important issues coming up, and there are important issues that can arise unexpectedly,” Bogaard said. “We want someone with some knowledge of the city and some record of good judgment I have talked to (City Clerk) Mark Jomsky about making a public announcement at the appropriate time for interested parties to come forward who live in that district.”
One of the candidates rumored to be running said he would implore the city to conduct an open process with some type of community input.
“I am favorable to the city’s process as long as they have a transparent process,” businessman Ishmael Trone told the Weekly. “They need to have criteria out there on how they select the person. Maybe that person should go before a committee and state why they should be appointed, and maybe there should be an opportunity for the community to put names in there, so no one can point fingers at the council and say ‘Look what they did.’”
District 3 resident John J. Kennedy, onetime president of the NAACP Pasadena Branch, told the Weekly that not only should the process be transparent, but the city should consider putting off voting on some issues if at all possible until after the next full-time councilman is elected.
“If they go to a selection, it should be extremely transparent to the residents of Pasadena,” said Kennedy. “From a public policy standpoint, people want to know their government is open and includes the community process, and the way you guarantee that is through an open and public dialogue. We enjoy robust debate in Pasadena, and I think the community wants to ensure that debate continues. If there is the possibility of a negative financial impact and the city is falling apart, you have to move forward with these issues. If not, there is no reason not to wait for the elected officials to be seated before voting on these issues.”
Holden, the son of former Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden, has represented the district since 1989. During that time, he helped establish the city’s water and power utility advisory commission and pushed for more resources in Northwest Pasadena neighborhoods. Holden voted to bring the NFL to the Rose Bowl in 2002 and then launched a successful ballot initiative calling for placing the NFL issue on a special ballot, saying the city had to do something to bring the aging stadium back into the financial black. Voters did not agree, but now it appears Holden was right, as the stadium continues to lose money and is costing the city millions of dollars in repair costs.
Last June, Holden led a field of five challengers for the 41st Assembly District seat, which stretches eastward from Pasadena to Upland and includes communities along the Foothill (210) Freeway, with 34 percent of the vote, according to Los Angeles County Registrar’s Office. Lowe finished second in the primary with 20 percent of the votes cast.