Article IV, Section 404 of the Pasadena City Charter states that vacated City Council seats SHALL be filled by appointment agreed upon by a majority of the Council or by chosen lot if the Council does not come to a majority agreement.
By Sean McMorris
A Pasadena City Council seat must be filled within 75 days from the time the seat is vacated. The appointee holds the seat until it is filled at the next general municipal election where the appointee may run as an incumbent candidate.
Newly elected Pasadena Mayor Victor Gordo’s vacated City Council seat must be filled within the next 3 months. It will not be filled by a majority of voters in District 5, but by the City Council. The appointed councilmember then holds office until the City’s next general election. This means that District 5 residents will have an unelected councilmember representing them for roughly two years. That may rub some Pasadena District 5 residents the wrong way.
Filling vacant city council seats by appointment is not uncommon, but many would argue it is not ideal. It seems counter to democratic principles. An incumbent almost always has a campaign fundraising advantage and, consequently, an increased likelihood of winning re-election. There is also the danger of cronyism or corruption, or its appearance, when filling elected seats by appointment. For that reason, Alhambra residents recently voted for comprehensive election reforms that included, amongst other things, a clause that requires that vacant city council seats be filled by special or general election.
For context, general law cities, which are cities governed by municipal laws in the state’s constitution, may fill vacant city council seats either by appointment or election. General law cities comprise over 70% of all California cities but a little less than half the state’s population. Charter cities, like Pasadena, are often larger and create their own municipal codes that do not have to adhere to municipal laws prescribed in the state’s constitution, so long as the charter does not violate federal and non-municipal state laws.
Thus, most California cities may fill city council vacancies by appointment, like Pasadena, OR special election, unlike Pasadena. Not allowing the option to hold an election to fill a vacant city council seat seems unduly restrictive and, quite frankly, undemocratic.
In comparison to Pasadena, all surrounding cities may fill city council vacancies by election. South Pasadena, San Marino, San Gabriel, Monterey Park, La Canada Flintridge, Sierra Madre, and Rosemead are all general law cities, and none of them have ordinances that require the filling of city council vacancies by appointment.
Arcadia, Temple City, Glendale, and Los Angeles are charter cities. All of them, except Alhambra, allow council vacancies to be filled by appointment or election. Alhambra’s charter requires that city council vacancies be filled via special or general election.
Pasadena is the only city in the immediate area that mandates in its charter that vacant city council seats be filled by appointment.
If Pasadenans want this to change, then a charter amendment ballot measure is likely required. The Pasadena charter’s Vacancy—Appointment clause has been amended twice by the people at the ballot box, in 1993 and 1998.
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