The City Council deadlocked once again Monday on filling a vacancy, which appears to be headed to a June 4 special election.
The council split 2-2 on how to make the appointment for the two years remaining in the council term of Richard O'Brien, who was elected mayor in November.
O'Brien and Councilwoman Jeanine Tucker favored appointing Cal Campbell, who finished a strong third in the race for two council seats, or choosing from among all five losing candidates.
Councilwomen Dotty Nygard and Darlene Barber-Martinez favored opening the appointment to all eligible residents, which they said would bring the city's large Latino population into the process.
The council split the same way at two meetings in December.
Monday's meeting got tense at times, as several speakers objected to bringing ethnicity into the debate. Campbell said the suggestion that he could not represent Latinos was akin to being "slapped in the face."
"I'm married to a Mexican-American lady whose family has been in this community since 1928," he said.
Under state law, the vacancy would go to a special election if the seat is not filled by Feb. 8. Council members have said they would like to avoid that because of the estimated cost of up to $57,000.
Time already was tight even if the council had agreed Monday on an appointment process. The city staff suggested a three-week process for applications and interviews. The choice would have been made Feb. 4, four days before the deadline.
The council's next meeting is Jan. 28, which is 11 days before the deadline. The council conceivably could agree on an appointee in that time frame, but no one seemed to be changing positions Monday.
O'Brien said the field should be limited to the November candidates because they made the "great personal effort" that running for office entails.
Tucker placed first with 1,950 votes, followed by Barber-Martinez with 1,902 and Campbell with 1,771. The other candidates were Leanne Jones Cruz with 1,428 votes, Jessica Molina with 1,072, Kathy Salvatore with 1,042 and Anthony McKinney with 590.
Nygard said the November election was for two seats, not three, and the vacancy should be open to the whole city.
Some have suggested that the open process would give former Mayor Virginia Madueño, who lost to O'Brien in November, a chance to get back on the council. Nygard said she did not have a specific person in mind in favoring this process.
Dave White, a former mayor and councilman, supported the Campbell appointment.
"Let's not make a race issue out of this," he said. "Let's take the next qualified person to serve."
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2385.