August 1, 2006 > Passing the torch
Passing the torch
by Steve Warga
After Hayward icon and city council member, Matt Jimenez, passed away unexpectedly, the council faced a choice. They could appoint a replacement to a two year term, or they could place the position on November's General Election ballot. In the former case, they had 30 days to act; in the latter case, city attorney Michael O'Toole advised the council they had to act that night, July 12. The winner of that election would then serve the remainder of a four year term. The council voted, 4 to 2 in favor of an appointment process.
Council members Ward and Henson wanted to allow voters the choice in the November General Election. Despite rumbles of complaint that democracy wasn't being served, the council's decision was legal and consistent with their obligations as Hayward's representatives to pass the torch to a suitable replacement.
Of 15 applicants who filed within the seven day period, existing council members winnowed the lot to five finalists. Prominently absent from the final list were Robert Lopez and Brian Schott, both of whom ran for office in the June elections. A number of their supporters argued in vain that thousands of Hayward voters had already expressed the will of the people. The council members felt otherwise.
A special council session convened on Thursday, July 27 to interview each of the finalists and then appoint a replacement. The session was carried live on Comcast cable channel 15. Of the five candidates, 77 year old Doris Rodriguez distinguished herself by committing to serving only the two years until the next election cycle in June 2008. Ultimately, this seems to have sealed the deal with the council. The fact she was a councilmember from 1991 to 2004 probably didn't hurt her chances either. Despite the thoughtful articulations of the other four candidates, the council retreated to the comfort zone of a familiar face, using the two year commitment as support for their decision.
When it came time to vote, councilmember Dowling wasted no time in moving to appoint Rodriguez. Olden Henson immediately seconded the motion noting that Rodriguez could "hit the ground running," implying that other candidates although appearing well-informed when questioned, might take many months to catch up with the current council's affairs.
Councilmember Ward, the senior member based on years of service, stated that the council was "missing an opportunity tonight" if they voted for Rodriguez. While expressing his respect and affections for Rodriguez, Ward believed that the other female candidate, Nina Genera, would bring more diversity to the council. He then abstained from the final vote. Councilmember Quirk joined Ward's stated preference for Genera and did, in fact, register the only "Nay" in the 4-1-1 decision for Rodriguez.
Councilmember Halliday noted, "We cannot go wrong having Doris on the council." Mayor Sweeney echoed her sentiments. After the vote, City Clerk Angie Reyes administered the oath of office to Rodriguez. The newest member took her place in longtime friend, Matt Jimenez', chair and spoke briefly of her interest in going with the present flow of city affairs. She reminded the assembly of her statements of having "no agenda" other than easing the transition to the next election cycle in '08. She also mentioned her desire to see a Hispanic individual replacing her after that election.
As TCV stated in a prior article about the Jimenez vacancy ("A new face and an empty place," July 18), our system of government is not a pure democracy. We are a republic governed by representatives elected democratically. When the Hayward council decided on an appointment process instead of waiting for the November elections, they exercised their sworn duty to uphold the law, in this case, the city charter. Of their selection, the question might be asked, 'Why then did they turn around and appoint someone who specifically offered herself as an interim member until the next city election cycle with no other stated goals or agenda?' For that result, they could have decided to wait until the November elections.