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Lathrop now must decide how to fill vacant City Council seat
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LATHROP – It’s just a waiting game now.

By the end of the month California Secretary of State Debra Bowen will give her blessing to the 2012 election results and the shuffling on the Lathrop City Council will be able to formally take place – allowing Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal to take the gavel in his ascension to mayor.

But what the council will do with the vacancy that his promotion creates – something that they faced in 2010 when the leading vote getter opted out of his seat for professional reasons – remains a mystery.

Multiple options will be available to the new council, which will include former councilman Steve Dresser and incumbent Martha Salcedo. Both dominated the 10-person field in the race for two council seats by amassing a combined 46 percent of the vote. Taking applications from “qualified” candidates and holding a special election or a runoff to determine who will fill the seat are both on the table.

What happened when the council was last realigned could also be a possibility.

When Lathrop-Manteca Fire Chief Gene Neely announced that he would not be assuming the seat that he won in dominating fashion in the 2010 election because of perceived conflicts of interest, the council voted to pick the person with the next-most votes. While it was a controversial move and one that sparked a heated debate and stand-off between Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos and his counterparts, then 19-year-old Omar Ornelas was tapped to fill the spot.

And only 20 votes separate the following three candidates.

If that 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 came in at 9.45 percent (649 votes).

Ornelas’ appointment wasn’t immediate – the four-member council had to discuss how they wanted to proceed – but it was action-packed after Santos asked that the appointment be immediately nullified because of his claim it violated parliamentary procedure.

Even Neely – who had handily won the seat before officially resigning it (he had been promoted to the position of Fire Chief during his campaign) – stepped up and asked that a different method be used for picking the person to fill the full four-year term.

Whoever fills Dhaliwal’s vacant seat would face reelection in 2014.