If San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones’ attempt to circumvent local voters by appointing a new City Council member next month instead of scheduling a special election sounds familiar, it is.
It has happened before and Jones was the beneficiary of the new seat, her first political office, as a result.
That happened in 2007 when then-mayor and newly elected San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond appointed Jones to her first council seat. The move was highly controversial and set off several years of dispute and backlash over the incident. The only other time council members appointed a new member in lieu of holding an election was believed to be in 1994. The city was incorporated in 1963.
Desmond said he wanted an open forum for all nine candidates for the post. When the considerable smoke and mirrors cleared, Desmond along with councilman Hal Martin voted to approve Jones while councilman Mike Preston voted no. Councilman Chris Orlando recused himself. Jones then replaced Desmond, who vacated the seat when he was elected mayor. Desmond had two years remaining in his term.
Now, Jones wants to appoint the council member filling the seat left vacant due to her election as mayor. It’s even intended as a two-year appointment.
Past as prologue
Before Jones’ appointment, according to Ned Randolph of the North County Times, Desmond pledged that his nomination would be based on the applicants’ presentations at a council meeting, adding, “everyone gets a chance.”
After the presentations, however, Desmond began reading from what appeared to be a prepared speech about diversity, Randolph said.
“I don’t know if you were aware of this, but he had a typewritten speech that he was reading from,” Preston said after the vote. “I’m sitting next to him, and he’s looking down at a typewritten document. I didn’t see a typewriter at his desk, so I guess he forgot about that.”
Desmond said later that he had, in fact, decided on Jones the Sunday night before the meeting.
The pool of nine applicants included many who had spent years on city boards and commissions and others who ran for office in November, according to Randolph. Jones had no political experience although she had worked with Desmond and Orlando in 2004 to defeat a proposed Wal-Mart at San Elijo Hills.
Posting in May, 2016 on the Daughters Blog, Jones said she was “generally encouraged by sitting city council members” to seek the vacated Desmond council seat.
Desmond said he appointed Jones without holding a special election because he wanted “diversity” on the council and she was a woman.
“It didn’t look normal,” said Neill Kovrig, a traffic commissioner for four years and fellow applicant. “It looked bizarre. It sounded bizarre. It didn’t quite ring true.”
How it works
The entire process was highly contentious with city attorney Helen Holmes-Peak on the San Marcos tic-tac-d’oh center square making several rulings pertinent to the vote. Disputes included the nomination and interview process, selection criteria and Orlando’s recusal because Jones’ husband gave him a $150 ticket to a charity pig roast.
Preston had been allied with previous mayor Corky Smith and former councilman Lee Thibodaux, who were opponents of Desmond, Orlando and Jones. After the vote, Preston “questioned” Jones’ independence, by news accounts.
The Preston-Desmond-Jones fallout from this dispute continued for years, and is the subject of a story to be published later this week at The Grapevine.
However, the salient point here is that Jones appears to be repeating the 2007 playbook. This time she will be a key player in appointing the person who will fill her vacated council seat.
Jones said the reason council members should appoint their new colleague for a two-year term is a special election would cost $600,000 and delay the choice.
Concerned San Marcos residents this week on social media sites said local voters rather than politicians with conflicting interests should choose a council member who will be charged with many controversial and city-altering decision on development and city issues along with personnel.
“Yes, dirty tricks and a great way to pack the deck,” said community activist Janet Garvin.
People see the utter disaster of a highly politicized and controversial process that brought Jones to power in 2007 and wonder why this possibly tainted process should happen again instead of letting voters decide in a special election.
History might not repeat itself, but, as they say, it rhymes.