RIVERBANK — Officials said Monday night that a privately run City Council election will be just as good as the conventional kind, and maybe cost less.
The city held a forum on plans for a June 4 special election for the council vacancy created by Richard O'Brien's election as mayor in November.
Officials with Stanislaus County, which normally conducts Riverbank's elections, declined this time on the grounds that the city called for it a day past the Feb. 10 deadline under state law.
Riverbank, which contends that it called for the election a day before the deadline, has opted to have a private vendor conduct it.
The council on March 25 could choose the vendor, which must be from a list approved by the California secretary of state's office.
"It is something that is done on a regular basis throughout the state," City Manager Jill Anderson said.
The cost of using the county election office had been estimated at up to $57,000. Officials on Monday said the cost could drop by as much as $20,000 with the vendor, depending in part on how many polling places are set up.
The election will be for a council term that runs through late 2014. The candidates are Cal Campbell, Jeremy Fennell and Diana Gonzalez.
The council had deadlocked 2-2 over two months on filling the seat by appointment. It assumed that after its last vote, on Jan. 28, the special election would automatically be called right after the Feb. 8 deadline to appoint someone. County officials said the call for election actually was in a Feb. 11 council resolution.
Doug White, special counsel to the city, said not holding the June 4 election would be "a blatant and willful violation of state law," adding, "You've got to do the right thing, which is to give people representation."
Leanne Jones Cruz, who ran unsuccessfully for the council in November, said using a vendor "scares a lot of folks" who are comfortable with tradition.
Officials said the vendor would be familiar with all of the steps, including informing people of polling places and processing the ballots.
County officials said holding an election that was not called for in time could lead to legal action that overturns it. White said he does not expect that to happen.
"I am confident that if this election is challenged, we will win," he said.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2385.