Photo by Tony Richards

February, 2019

Supporters of third place vote-getter Betty Valencia overwhelmed the Orange City Council Chambers during three 
separate meetings to lobby for her appointment to the open seat vacated by Mark Murphy after he was elected mayor.  

By Tina Richards

The vacant seat on the Orange City Council will be filled by voters via a special election to be held this November.

The four sitting members of the council voted unanimously to hold a special election, rather than appoint someone to the seat vacated by Mark Murphy when he was elected mayor last November. The council vote, Jan. 22, followed three heated council meetings consumed by public discussion regarding the open seat, how it should be filled, and who should fill it.

Last November, voters elected two candidates – Chip Monaco and Kimberlee Nichols – to fill two council vacancies. Candidate Betty Valencia came in third with 10,775 votes. Her supporters insisted that, as the third place vote-getter, she should be granted the now-available third seat. “The voters have spoken,” was the anthem of more than five hours of public testimony spanning Dec. 11, Jan. 8 and Jan. 22.

Supporters argued that the appointment of anyone other than Valencia would be a slap at the democratic process, that it was not right for four people to override the votes of 10,000, and that  Valencia had the support of a diverse segment of the population, many of whom felt underrepresented.

Other speakers either argued against Valencia, or urged the council to authorize a special election.

Dollars for democracy
A special election will cost the city some $450,000, and the council appeared reluctant to spend that much money. In December, residents were invited to submit applications for the council seat -- and 20 people did. The council was slated to make a decision – hold a special election or appoint someone – at its Jan. 8 meeting.  It opted, instead, to continue the issue for two more weeks to give council members time to interview all 20 applicants.

On Jan. 22, the heat was on. Valencia supporters packed the council chambers. Sprinkled among them were some of the applicants, their friends and family, residents who opposed Valencia, and a small handful advocating a special election.  The meeting was delayed for a time due to problems with the sound system.

“We’re waiting until it’s fixed,” Mayor Murphy explained.  “We want everyone here, and watching at home, to hear this.”

The public speakers, no matter their bent, were passionate. “The city has a lot on the line,” a 45-year resident said. “A special election will give everyone a voice.”

“I’m proud of the democratic process taking place before our eyes,” said a Valencia supporter. “We are not your enemy. Betty can compromise; she will not steamroll your plans for the city. Be brave enough, bold enough, to uphold democracy.”

If every votes counts
Another resident noted that while Valencia got 10,000 votes, there were more people who voted against her by voting for someone else. “This is not an extension of November’s election,” said another.  “Choosing Valencia would be ignoring the votes the other candidates got.”

“We’ve been knocking on lots of doors,” a Valencia canvasser reported. “The nonpartisan consensus is no special election. But people across the board don’t think you should pick somebody from the back room.”

“Your primary job,” another speaker said, “is to represent the community. If you don’t pick Betty, it shows you don’t care about representing the spirit of the city.”

“Sometimes,” said a last-minute speaker, “being a leader means doing the right thing.”

With the last public comment heard, the discussion went back to the council. Mayor Murphy was the first to speak. He complimented the skills, interest and presentations given by the speakers, but noted he had a different perspective. “I was originally appointed to the council,” he said. “I was proud to serve as an appointed person, but it doesn’t ring true unless you are elected. There are certain things you can’t put a price on. One is the opportunity for voters to select the fifth council member. My suggestion is that we call for a special election.”

A difficult choice
Mike Alvarez followed up, saying he and Chip Monaco had interviewed “just about everybody” and he thought there were three candidates who should be considered. “We should put them up for a council vote before going to an election,” he said.  “$450,000 is asking too much. Twenty great people have applied, I’d rather go that way.”

“I’ve heard every word you’ve said,” Kim Nichols told the audience. “I’m listening not just to you, but to the community at large. There are very strong opinions that differ from yours. That doesn’t mean that theirs or yours are any less important. Chip and I were elected to fill two seats. Not three. No one can predict who that third person would have been if voters had three people to elect.  One speaker tonight said there isn’t a price for democracy. We need to ask voters one more time who we should put in this seat to represent you, to represent the entire City of Orange.”

“This council has worked hard to ensure a fair and transparent process,” Monaco advised. If I were making my own choice, I’d pick someone that we interviewed. I don’t agree the third place vote-getter has a right to the vacant seat. This council can appoint anyone it wants, but in fairness, we should have an election.”

Alvarez, after listening to his colleagues, said he would go the way they wanted to go, “even if I disagree.”

A city resolution calling for a special election will be brought back to the council Feb. 12.  The election will be Nov. 5. Candidate filing deadlines won’t likely be until July. Betty Valencia is planning to run; applicant Arianna Barrios has announced her intention to run.  

Orange City Council opts for special election

to fill open seat