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Lathrop debating how to fill council vacancy

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POSTED December 2, 2012 11:57 p.m.

LATHROP – Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal is being  sworn in tonight as Lathrop’s next mayor while incumbent Martha Salcedo and returning councilman Steve Dresser will both take the oath of office to begin their respective four year terms.

But if what happened two years ago is any indication, what to do with the remaining time on Dhaliwal’s council seat – he was elected in 2010 to serve four years – will be anything but a slam dunk.

In his first official act after taking the reins of the council, Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos – who was handily defeated in early November by Dhaliwal – wasted no time in rocking the boat by attempting to block the appointment of Omar Ornelas to the council by claiming that doing so would be a violation of parliamentary procedure.

Ultimately Ornelas got the nod and to serve out the full four-year term vacated by Fire Chief Gene Neely. Orenlas and Santos publicly locked horns on several issues that came before the divided council, chiefly the motion disapproving of Santos’ conduct surrounding an investigation into his behavior.

According to the staff report the council will have three options – appoint a successor, accept applications before making a selection or hold a special election.

The criteria for choosing a successor, however, isn’t cut and dry.

In the past the council has chosen to both appoint the next leading vote getter – as in Ornelas’ case – and accept applications from qualifying candidates before making their selection. Only 20 votes separate the next three candidates in line.

If Ornelas’ appointment were to be perceived as a precedent, Paul Akinjo – who secured 9.74 percent (669 votes) of the ballots cast – would be next in line. Debbie Rock is right behind him with 9.58 percent (658 votes) while Joey Ermitanio wrapped up 9.45 percent (649 votes).

A special election could end up costing taxpayers an additional $50,000.

The council only has 60 days to make their selection. Choosing a special election would require that the next available election date can be used – June 4, 2013. If that were the case a four-member council would be the norm for nearly six months – roughly 25 percent of the term being filled.

Even Ornelas’ appointment wasn’t immediate – the council weighed its options before making an official decision and will likely wait beyond Monday before anything is official.

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