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Voters to decide open seat

The La Mesa city council voted unanimously on May 11 to fill former La Mesa Vice Mayor Akilah Weber’s seat by special election, but held off on deciding when that vote will take place.

Weber recently won a special election to fill the vacant 79th Assembly District seat.

The council has 60 days from the time Weber submitted her resignation on April 19 to decide which path they would take to fill her seat and must announce plans by June 18. However, attempts to plan around and possibly piggyback onto an upcoming California governor recall election in an effort to reduce costs are somewhat limited as the state of California has until July 11 to announce details of that larger vote.

“We may not know what day the election falls on until July 11 and our 90-day deadline ends on June 18. So, we need to adopt resolutions calling an election prior to knowing when the recall election will fall,” said La Mesa City Clerk Megan Wiegelman.

Mayor Mark Arapostathis and Councilman Bill Baber have previously spoken in favor of holding a special election they say encourages a more transparent process, while council members Jack Shu and Colin Parent have pushed for filling Weber’s seat by special appointment as a cost-saving measure with just 18 months left in the term.

Per County Registrar of Voters, Wiegelman has previously said a special election would cost the city of La Mesa between approximately $550,000 and $850,000.

A few members of the community submitted comments in support of having current city council members appoint someone to fill the open seat, including Janet Gastanos, who questioned “why anyone would vote to spend over half a million dollars in taxpayer funds on a special election to fill a one-year term when a no-cost appointment could be made”.

The same funds spent on that election, she said, could be used to fund a paid internship for youth, pay for a library expansion, expand park space, remodel MacArthur Community Center and other initiatives that benefit the community.

While resident Jeff Waller said there was no way for city council to justify the cost of an election and the fact that “the participating electorate would be far from representative,” resident Peggy Lewis simply said she hoped the council would appoint someone soon and save some money.

However, many more residents wrote in with pleas for a special election, such as resident Dave Parks who said “the people must elect their government representatives” and that fact should not be up for debate.

“Elected officials including city council members are representatives of the people and should be elected by the people of the community which they represent. Appointing a city council member to fill the seat is betraying the people of the community which you serve by denying us the opportunity to make a decision as we see fit for our community,” said another lifelong La Mesa resident.

“The right to vote is a fundamental aspect of living in a republic that should not be infringed upon,” resident Tim Hyatt said.

Parent, who was accused in several public comments of having a personal agenda in wanting to proceed with appointment, reiterated his belief that a special election will not draw a large voter turnout said “I think we’re going to go to a special election” and thus should make every effort to have the most people participating.

Shu said “elections work if a lot of people vote,” with Baber in agreement.

“I continue to think the best thing for our democracy is to have an election. So, I agree with you, we need to have an election on the date that will produce the most voters. I think we can get some empirical data on whether a mail-in vote will produce the most, possibly aligned with the recall,” Baber said.

The council unanimously voted to wait out announcing details of an election until after June 8 in the hopes California will release more information before then.

If the Secretary of State has not announced further election information by June 8, then a special La Mesa city council meeting will be scheduled for June 18 to determine and announce details on exactly when and how the special election will be held.


Source: East County Californian

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