RIVERBANK — County officials are questioning whether the June 4 special election for a vacant City Council seat can be legally held.
The Stanislaus County election office says Riverbank may not have called for the vote before the deadline specified in state law.
City Manager Jill Anderson said Thursday that she is confident the election will take place June 4, even if it means contracting with another party to conduct it.
The election is to complete the last year and a half in the council term of Richard O'Brien, who was elected mayor in November.
Under state law, the city must call for the election at least 114 days before the vote. This means action had to be taken by Feb. 10 for the June 4 election.
City officials contend that the call for election happened automatically Feb. 9, the day after the state-mandated deadline to appoint someone to the vacant seat. The council had failed over two months to agree on an appointment, voting 2-2 a final time Jan. 28.
The confusion arose because of what the council did Feb. 11. It passed a resolution spelling out the details of the election, an action that county officials took to be the formal call for election, one day past the deadline.
The council, after hearing the county's concern, passed another resolution Feb. 20 affirming that the election was called before the deadline.
"We're looking into that to see what the legal effect of that is," County Counsel John Doering said.
He could discuss the matter as soon as Tuesday with the county Board of Supervisors, which would have to approve having the county election office conduct the election.
County officials said they want to ensure that the election results would not be challenged on the grounds that the deadline was missed.
If the June 4 election was canceled, the vote would have to take place on another day allowed by state law. A letter from the county says that would be in August, but it actually would be in November, said Steven Churchwell, a Sacramento attorney working for Riverbank.
Anderson said the city could have another county or a private company handle the election, which is an option for local governments. "We believe we're legally obligated to have it on June 4, regardless of whether the county could assist us," she said.
The election is expected to cost the city up to $57,000 if done through Stanislaus County.
Churchwell said candidates should continue to file for the June 4 election. They have until March 8.
Initial candidacy papers have been taken taken out by Cal Campbell, Adam Lema and Timothy DeWitt, according to the city website.
Campbell placed third among seven candidates in the November election for two council seats. Some residents had urged that he be appointed to the vacant seat.
The election question comes as Riverbank seeks to get back to a fully functioning council. Then-member Jesse James White, who has faced legal issues related to a traffic accident, missed many of last year's meetings.
The city has had two other special elections in the past five years in the wake of resignations.
The most recent mayoral race had drama of its own, when incumbent Virginia Madueño requested and then abandoned a recount in her close contest against O'Brien.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.