Feb 20, 2015
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The Richmond City Council continues to debate the appointment of a seventh council member. With a third vote scheduled Tuesday night, Mayor Tom Butt posted a statement in his e-forum this week, announcing his nomination of former Councilman Jim Rogers, who was the runner up in November’s election. If a seventh member is not chosen by March 13, voters will decide in a costly special election.

Mayor Butt:

It is interesting that on February 4, 2013, both Gayle McLaughlin and Jovanka Beckles argued passionately that Eduardo Martinez should be selected primarily because he was the next highest vote getter.

McLaughlin called it “a question of democracy that the vote should go to the next highest vote getter…”

Beckles asked, “What kind of message are we sending to our young people to skip over the next highest vote getter?”

Martinez, in his remarks as a candidate also urged selection of himself as the runner up and warned against the wasted cost of an election. “The only right thing to do is put your differences aside and appoint someone to the City Council…avoid an election…that choice should be me.”

If you want to review the tape, see http://richmond.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=11&clip_id=3166.

Only two years later, faced with another choice, McLaughlin, Beckles and Martinez have totally abandoned their previously passionate but apparently ephemeral embrace of supporting the runner-up. It appears that “democracy,” the “message to young people” and the “right thing to do” have been shelved in favor of a brand new priority … selecting one of two candidates chosen by the RPA.

Tomorrow night, I will test the commitment of McLaughlin, Beckles and Martinez to the next highest vote getter by nominating, among others, the runner up Jim Rogers.

It is clear from reviewing the 2013 tapes that the RPA preferences are more about politics than doing the right thing. If they aren’t going to take their own advice and appoint the runner up, then I hope we can settle on one of several candidates who are not politically aligned with the RPA or anyone else.

Tom Butt

Barnidge: Now, in its third captivating week, the search for a seventh Richmond council member

By Tom Barnidge Contra Costa Times Columnist

Posted: 02/21/15, 5:23 PM PST |

Regulars at Richmond City Council meetings will recognize an agenda item at Tuesday night’s session. The hearing to “appoint a candidate to fill the vacant seat on the City Council” returns to the stage for a third captivating week, with viewers in suspense and no end to the drama. Broadway shows have had shorter runs than this.

The need to fill the council’s seventh chair was set into motion three months ago with the election of then-Councilman Tom Butt as mayor. The surprise is how difficult it’s been to find an appointee on whom council members can agree. Indiana Jones found the Holy Grail more quickly than this.

It’s not for lack of candidates. Eighteen civic-minded souls threw their names in the hopper when screening began Feb. 10. Included were residents who’d served on city commissions, community activists and neighborhood volunteers. They were men and women, representing diverse ethnicities, aching to do more.

“There are so many candidates who are qualified, I don’t know where to begin,” Councilman Eduardo Martinez said. Apparently, other council members were equally dumbfounded, so they ended up choosing no one.

Martinez and fellow council members Jovanka Beckles and Gayle McLaughlin, all members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, pushed for fellow RPA member Marilyn Langlois. Butt, Vice Mayor Jael Myrick and Councilman Nat Bates pushed back, unwilling to grant the RPA a majority on the council.

When Butt and Myrick supported Sheryl Lane, offering opposition were Martinez, Beckles, McLaughlin and Bates. When Beckles, McLaughlin and Martinez supported Claudia Jimenez, Myrick, Butt and Bates did not.

Seven candidates were put up and voted down in the first meeting. Two more nominations went up in smoke last Tuesday. There’s little reason to think this Tuesday’s proceedings will go any better, which is why meetings are tentatively scheduled for the next two Tuesdays. It’s beginning to feel like “Groundhog Day.”

Interesting rationales for participants’ votes have emerged along the way. Beckles, citing census data showing 40 percent of Richmond is Hispanic (only two of six council members are), announced last week that the next member should be a Latina. Good thing Beckles didn’t get her way earlier with Langlois; she would have violated her own quota system.

McLaughlin, the former mayor, explained several times that she could only support candidates who are active in the community. Then she refused to support Lane or Ben Choi, both of whom she’d appointed to the Planning Commission. The City Council is the only governing body more actively involved in the community.

Bates, who’s aligned with no one in this fracas, noted Beckles’ concern for proportionate representation when he nominated Vinay Pimple, a blind attorney. Bates said there are many Richmond residents with disabilities, but none on the council. His effort at proportionate representation went nowhere.

Interestingly, a situation similar to this unfolded in Concord in 2011. That’s when Mark Peterson left the council after being elected Contra Costa district attorney. Twenty applicants for his seat were gathered, and each asked the same eight questions as council members evaluated their answers. After nominations and a vote, Dan Helix was appointed. The entire process took 4 hours.

Richmond does things differently. That’s what makes it special.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.