Process to fill vacant council seat debated at contentious meeting

ENCINITAS — The four remaining members of the City Council met Sept. 26 during a special session to discuss the process of filling the seat left vacant by the death of Maggie Houlihan, who succumbed to cancer on Sept. 16.
In the city’s 25 year history, the issue has never been addressed. However, state law requires the vacancy to be filled either by appointment or a special election within 60 days of the time the council is notified.
The chamber was packed with Houlihan’s constituents, most of whom called for an appointment of a either Tony Kranz, who placed third in the last election, or Lisa Shaffer.
In a surprising and emotional video (see sidebar) shown during the meeting, Houlihan endorsed Shaffer for council in 2012. Houlihan’s remarks were made close to the end of her life. Many in the crowd were moved to tears as Houlihan’s voice was heard one last time in the council chamber she served in for 11 years.
Several speakers addressed the council urging that the criteria for a replacement be someone who would represent the entire city. Lisa Leslie, a local resident said that the person’s “values should closely resemble those of Maggie. You have an ethical duty to honor her wishes.”
Dadla Ponzil told the council that since no clear and “fair” process existed for replacing Houlihan, “picking the subcommittee is of utmost importance.” “Frankly, I’m insulted that you thought it wasn’t important enough to televise,” he admonished the council.
In fact, Mayor James Bond said the meeting was merely a formality in creating a subcommittee that would discuss the options, “legal and otherwise,” that were available to the council and come back with a recommendation. He nominated Councilwomen Teresa Barth and Kristin Gaspar to the subcommittee. “I think both can work out a reasonable thing,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Jerome Stocks supported Bond’s recommendation. “I think this is the right way to do it,” he said, adding that the subcommittee could hammer out the details of an appointment process.
“I would be honored to serve on a committee but it seems Deputy Mayor Stocks just told us what to do,” Barth said. The crowd jeered and hissed as Bond said no one had any intention of swaying the subcommittee’s recommendation.
Gene Chapo, a former planning commissioner and one of Houlihan’s neighbors, predicted the process of filling her seat would not be easy.
“I know you guys have a very big job to do and it’s a job I don’t envy,” he said. “I know someone else can’t fill Maggie’s shoes, but I urge you to find someone who can fill those shoes nearly full.”

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