In November 2021, District 5 City Councilman, Rodger Chandler, passed away, leaving a vacant seat on Arcadia’s five-person City Council.
By Sean McMorris
Section 403(c) of the City’s Charter states that “[a]ny vacancy on the Council shall be filled by a majority vote of the remaining Councilmembers within thirty days after the vacancy occurs.” The City Charter goes on to state that “[i]f the Council fails, for any reason, to fill such vacancy within said thirty-day period, it shall forthwith call an election for the earliest possible date to fill such vacancy.”
Violation of City’s Charter
The Arcadia City Council and Mayor have decided to do neither, in violation of the City’s Charter, ostensibly leaving the City open to a lawsuit.
According to public records, December 13, 2021, was the deadline for the City Council to either appoint a replacement for Chandler or call a special election to fill his District 5 seat.
The City Council held multiple special meetings from December 9th to the 13th to determine whether to appoint an applicant to the seat or hold a special election. The Council was split 2-2 on both options. At the end of the December 13 special meeting, despite robust discussion and a closed session with the City Attorney, no action was taken to fill the vacant City Council seat.
What happens now
What happens now appears to be up to the residents of Arcadia, any one of whom could sue the City, likely through injunction or writ of mandate, to have a court of law force the City to abide by its Charter. This is something the City Council appears to be aware of but is hoping will not happen.
The question of what would happen if the City Council ignored the City’s Charter, and waited until the November 2022 City election to fill the vacant seat, was discussed at multiple special meetings and in closed session with the City’s attorney. Both the City Manager and Assistant City Attorney advised against it, encouraging the Council to either appoint a councilmember or hold a special election to fill the seat within the time frame described in the City’s Charter.
Out of compliance with City Charter
At the December 10th special meeting, Councilwoman April Verlato asked City Manager Dominic Lazzaretto, pointedly what would happen if the Council didn’t appoint someone to the seat or hold a special election to fill it. City Manager Lazzaretto replied, “We would be out of compliance with our City Charter, which would make the City highly susceptible to a lawsuit.” He added that the most likely outcome of such a lawsuit would be that a judge would order the Council to hold a special election.
The matter was not on the agenda or discussed further at the December 21, 2021, regular City Council meeting. Videos of the City Council’s special meetings (December 9, 10, 13, 2021) to fill the vacant District 5 Council seat are available on the City’s website (minutes for those meetings were not yet published at the time of this article).
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