Council will appoint member to fill vacant seat

When Sonoma City Councilmember Rachel Hundley announced her resignation from the council on Dec. 7, it opened two doors forward toward finding a replacement to complete the last two years of her current four-year term: election or selection.

In Interim City Manager David Kiff’s report to the city council at its Jan. 20 meeting, he said that the council has 60 days from the date Hundley’s resignation takes effect to either name a replacement or hold a special election to fill the seat.

Kiff said that, as of the meeting, Hundley had not submitted a letter of resignation “in writing,” which hindered the council’s process in finding a replacement. The letter should be directed to City Clerk Rebekah Barr.

When it arrives, Hundley’s resignation will take effect Jan. 31, which means the 60-day period expires April 2. In that scenario the council can’t legally take any steps to find a replacement until she is no longer on the council. As a council meeting is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 1, council members agreed to conditionally take up the replacement process at that time.

Rachel Hundley was elected to the Sonoma City Council in 2014. She has announced her resignation effective Jan. 31, 2021.
Rachel Hundley was elected to the Sonoma City Council in 2014. She has announced her resignation effective Jan. 31, 2021.

The council – minus Hundley herself, who left the meeting early following the consent calendar vote – spent little time deciding that having a special election was not something they wanted to spend the time or, more importantly, the money on.

According to the staff report, the County Registrar offered election dates of Aug. 31 or Nov. 2, which would leave the council without a potential tie-breaking fifth vote for most of 2021. It also reported the cost of a special election is estimated as between $3 and $5 per voter, or between $23,000 and $38,500 for the registration, ballots, tabulation and other electoral costs.

“We don’t want to be spending any more of our precious resources than we have to,” said Councilmember Madolyn Agrimonti, and Councilmember Jack Ding quickly agreed.

Instead, the council turned to a discussion of how they could select a replacement themselves, an option that is available because less than half a term remains (otherwise the election route is the only one available). A council appointee would fill the seat for the remainder of Hundley’s term, to December 2022, and should be able to take the seat as soon on or before April 2, the end of that 60-day period.

Given Hundley’s not-yet-official resignation, Kiff suggested the council could only appoint an ad hoc committee to work with staff to come up with a selection process, which could be brought back to the council on Feb. 1 at the earliest for official council action on setting an application schedule, set aside possible interview dates, and agree upon the questions and criteria they expect from applicants.

Mayor Logan Harvey and Councilmember Amy Harrington agreed to work with city staff to set up the process for a council vote when the vacancy becomes official; a process would include how interested parties would apply for the seat, as well as a timeline to name a new council member.

The requirements for a city council member include that the applicant be registered to vote in the city of Sonoma, which means he or she would also be a U.S. citizen of 18 years or older. It also means applicants “cannot be currently serving a state or federal prison term for a felony conviction, nor prohibited from voting via a court action because of mental incompetency,” said Kiff.

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