Three candidates interested in vacant Riverbank council seat

03/08/2013 5:38 PM

03/08/2013 9:17 PM

Let the campaigning resume in Riverbank. Three candidates qualified by Friday's deadline to run for a vacant council seat in June, when the city intends to conduct an election that Stanislaus County officials say they shouldn't.

The opening was created in November when Councilman Richard O'Brien was elected mayor. The four remaining members then deadlocked over how to fill it, a process that led to what the county believes was a missed deadline last month to call a special election June 4.

This much was clear Friday: Cal Campbell, Jeremy Fennell and Diana Gonzalez will compete for the open seat. A fourth potential candidate, Adam Lema, was disqualified because he did not gain the signatures of 20 registered voters.

Campbell finished a strong third in the race for two seats in the Nov. 6 council election. O'Brien and Councilwoman Jeanine Tucker had favored appointing him to avoid the cost of a special election but also said they would consider opening the appointment process to all five of the losing candidates.

Councilwomen Dotty Nygard and Darlene Barber-Martinez said the process should be open to all residents to better reflect Riverbank's large Latino community.

The debate lasted until Feb. 11, when the council formally called for a special election.

But county officials said that was too late, missing by a day a state requirement to take that action 114 days before the vote. Riverbank's appeal was denied Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

The city intends to find another party to conduct the election, which is an option for California cities. City Manager Jill Anderson said Friday that two or three firms would be evaluated; she expects that choice to be made "by this time next week."

"While the county counsel had a different opinion, the opinion of the city's attorney is that the city is compelled to have the election June 4," said Anderson, adding that "a technicality would not be a sufficient reason to deprive the voters and delay their opportunity to select their representative."

She would not estimate how much a private firm might charge the cash-strapped city to oversee the election. Early estimates for the county to do it ranged from $38,000 to $57,000. Anderson expects there to be polling places in addition to a vote-by-mail option.

"We want to conduct an election that honors the voters and honors the candidates," she said.

The winner of the vacant term will serve until November 2014.

The uncertainty about the special election has prompted the city to hold a town hall meeting Monday to answer questions from residents. It is scheduled for 7 p.m., after a 6 p.m. council meeting that is not expected to be long. Both will be at City Hall, 6707 Third St.

Not having a full complement of five council members is nothing new in Riverbank. That essentially was the case for much of last year, when then-member Jesse James White missed many meetings amid legal issues stemming from a traffic accident and charge of driving under the influence.

Riverbank also went several months without a mayor in 2009, when the council deadlocked on appointing a successor to David I. White, who had resigned. Virginia Madueño won the office in a special election; she lost her re-election bid to O'Brien in November.

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