BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall has sent a letter to former Councilman Rudy Salas asking Salas to help out with the anticipated $100,000 cost of a special election to replace him.
"... Your election to the 32nd Assembly seat less than two years into your council term has caused quite a stir" given the cost, Hall wrote. To help with the "historic" cost of the special election "would be consistent with your record on fiscal matters and only reaffirm your commitment to the Ward 1 members."
Hall sent the letter at the request of Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan, who first publically called on Salas last December to help the city defray the special election costs.
Salas said Monday he has spoken with Hall about the cost and was considering paying for some of it. He also has asked an election law attorney to look into the issue, he said. But above all, he said, "I just want to be treated by the same rules as everyone else," regardless of political affiliation.
"We never heard these cries before for any other member of the Republican Party," Salas said. "Now you have a Republican council member that never made it an issue before until someone of her party didn't win."
Salas, a Democrat, defeated Republican Pedro Rios for the Assembly seat. Sullivan is a Republican, though city council seats are non-partisan.
At least a dozen other elected officials in Kern County have vacated their spots in recent years before their terms were up, including one of the most prominent Republicans, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Salas said.
But when McCarthy stepped down from his seat on the Kern Community College District board in 2002, halfway through his term, he was replaced through an appointment, not a special election.
Sullivan herself was elected to the city council through a special election, in 1995. But the distinction between that race and the current situation, she said, is that she wasn't the reason a special election was called.
"That's entirely different. ... I did not trigger the need for a special election," Sullivan said. "I wasn't the one that broke the contract the first year."
Sullivan said she objects more to the timing of Salas' run for higher office rather than his step up.
"We're talking about him announcing running for higher office in the middle of his first year of his four-year term," she said. "(Run) when the opportunity comes up, but not right after you've been elected to a four-year term."
Salas took his council seat in December 2010 and filed to run for his state Assembly seat in mid-August 2011.
The city council, including Sullivan, voted unanimously in January to hold a special election, despite the anticipated cost and even though they could have chosen to make an appointment.
A petition by Ward 1 residents to force a special election failed because of a technicality.
Some council members had voiced concerns about the cost.
Asked whether Salas should help pay for the special election, Councilman Ken Weir said, "I believe it is better to step back and take a look at what happened."
"When Rudy was elected to the Assembly, I did not want to pay for a special election. I would have preferred to appoint an interim council member and call for an election in 2014," Weir said in an email. But Ward 1 residents demonstrated significant interest in having an election, he added.
"It is that vote that caused an eventual expenditure of funds from the general fund. It was the right vote," he said of the council's decision to hold a special election anyway.
New Councilman Terry Maxwell said the time between Salas taking his council seat and announcing his run for a higher office raises the question, "How serious was he about his four-year term?"
"I'm all for sending him a letter," Maxwell said of Hall's letter. "I don't delude myself into thinking Rudy is going to honor that."
Hall said he spoke to Salas on Saturday.
"He had a very good attitude about the letter. He understands," though Salas didn't specifically say he'd help pay for the special election, Hall said. Still, it's important to maintain good relations with Salas, he added.
"We need to work favorably with all of our state elected officials, so I wanted the letter to be a soft approach rather than ... mandating in language," Hall said.
"It was just kind of a softly worded letter to kind of pull on his heart a little bit ... in hopes that maybe he could find a way to return some of the money that's going to be spent for the election."
The last stand-alone special election for a city council seat, which Sullivan won, was in 1995 and cost $20,000, according to Bakersfield City Clerk Roberta Gafford. It was to replace Kevin McDemott, who left partway through a Ward 6 council term to move to the Ward 4 council seat, because he became a Ward 4 resident.
(There also was an interim appointment in this case. Galen Chow served for six months in the vacated Ward 6 seat).
Elections have changed in the past 18 years, Gafford said, contributing to the five-fold cost increase for this special election versus 1995's. Increased automation, requirements to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and increased vote security measures have all been contributors, she said.