Santee City Council votes to appoint new council member to fill vacant seat

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The Santee City Council decided to appoint a new member to its five-member board and hold an open interview process scheduled for its next meeting, Jan. 25.

At its Jan. 11 meeting, the first of the New Year, the council addressed the issue of replacing the seat vacated when John Minto was elected mayor in November. In the motion that passed 3-1 with Rob McNelis opposed, the council agreed to appoint a new member following a public interview process.

The Santee City Council decided to appoint a new member to its five-member board and hold an open interview process scheduled for its next meeting, Jan. 25.

At its Jan. 11 meeting, the first of the New Year, the council addressed the issue of replacing the seat vacated when John Minto was elected mayor in November. In the motion that passed 3-1 with Rob McNelis opposed, the council agreed to appoint a new member following a public interview process.

The council could have scheduled a special election but the latter alternative, estimated between $220,000 and $420,000, was deemed too costly.

The council discussed appointing a replacement that night, and talked about the possibility of handing the seat to the next highest vote getter in the past election, Dustin Trotter, but that motion died on a 2-2 split vote.

The council remained divided on another motion made by Minto to appoint former Assemblyman Brian Jones to the seat, with Councilman Stephen Houlahan and McNelis voting against it. Jones, who spoke at the meeting, was termed out of the Assembly in November after serving three, two-year terms.

McNelis said he respected Jones, and knows he is eminently qualified to do the job, but is also was aware of his desire to become the area’s state senator in 2018, and that could sway many of his decisions.

Jones, who also previously served on the Santee Council for two terms, said he is indeed aiming to run for the state Senate seat now held by Sen. Joel Anderson.

Three other potential candidates expressed their desire that night to fill the vacancy. They were Dawn Gibbs, a business owner; Van Collinsworth, the president of a local environmental nonprofit organization, and Arnold Winston, a retired banker.

In advocating appointing Trotter, McNelis cited statements made at an election forum in October. At the event, the three candidates for council agreed that the second place finisher (of three) should be appointed to the vacant seat. Trotter received about 230 more votes to take second place over third place finisher Mason Herron.

Houlahan, who took first place in November with 9,882 votes, said he would have preferred to hold a special election but the costs were too high. He said he’d rather open the process up to everyone even if it means taking a longer time to sift through what will likely be more than four candidates.

“In a perfect world we would hold a special election. This is such a highly important decision, and that’s why I made the motion,” he said.

Houlahan offered to support McNelis’ motion to appoint Trotter if he agreed not to run for re-election in 2018, but McNelis said he wouldn’t agree with the provision.

City Manager Marlene Best said the city would post a notice on its website, www.ci.santee.ca.us, for applications to the council position, with an expected deadline of Jan. 23 although that could be extended. The only requirements to serve on the council are being 18 years old, a registered voter, and a resident of Santee.

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