Local Politics

Friday, Dec 07 2012 10:00 PM

Councilwoman urges Salas to fund special election

BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer aboessenkool@bakersfield.com

Bakersfield City Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan is calling on former colleague Rudy Salas to foot the bill for a special election to replace him, saying he used his post to propel himself to higher office.

"It's fairly obvious it was used purely as a stepping stone," Sullivan said of Salas' tenure on the council, which ended this past week when he was sworn into the state Assembly.

"When you leave midterm, you're violating the sacred trust and contract (with) the voters who elected you," she said. "The expense should be on the person breaking the contract and making the special election necessary. ... That should not be our expense."

The city clerk's office has said the election could cost up to $100,000, depending on whether another local government has something to put on a ballot and can share the cost.

Sullivan said Salas should have stepped down from the council before the Nov. 6 general election, so the Ward 1 race could've been part of the general election.

Salas was elected to the Ward 1 Bakersfield City Council seat in 2010 and served half his term before taking up the 32nd District Assembly seat he won last month. Salas will represent Kings County and a northwest section of Kern County, including parts of Bakersfield.

The city can't force Salas to pay for a special election, said Bakersfield City Attorney Virginia Gennaro.

"I certainly understand the frustration of council in having to spend taxpayer money having to conduct a special election," Gennaro said. But, she added, "I am not aware of any legal mechanism by which to hold Mr. Salas accountable for those fees.

"However, I'm sure that the city would welcome any donations that either Mr. Salas or anyone else would like to put forward to subsidize the election."

Salas himself didn't appear to rule that out, yet.

"I have to consider it," he said from Sacramento, where his new office will be. "But I also would like to see what the precedent has been for other elections, like Jacquie Sullivan's."

Sullivan herself was elected through a special election, in June of 1995, the last time Bakersfield held a stand-alone special election.

But the cost then was likely a lot less than it would be now, City Clerk Roberta Gafford said. Voter rolls locally surged with the first election of President Barack Obama in 2008. That pushed up the number of people who need to be notified of a special election, therefore boosting the cost.

Gennaro said she wasn't aware of anyone having helped out with special election costs for the city in the past.

The city council, which will include two new members as of next week, still have to decide whether to call for a special election or appoint someone for the rest of Salas' term. They'll take that up when they meet in January, but already most members have said they're leaning toward a special election, despite the cost.

Money to pay for a special election would come straight from the city's general fund, which is used to pay for services like police and other city employees. And it's a significant cost for the city's budget, said City Manager Alan Tandy.

Tandy compared the price tag to the cost of one police officer or two public works street maintenance employees.

The city's charter, which lays out a process for filling mid-term vacancies, anticipates that people may leave before finishing their terms, Gennaro said.

But the costs are more visible and controversial this time around.

"You just have unfortunately the making of a perfect storm," Gennaro said.

Coming up on a non-election year, with potentially no other ballot measures, means the city may not be able to share costs with another district, such as a school district.

Salas is a Democrat. But Sullivan, who's active in the local Republican Party, said she'd even support asking GOP U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina to help foot the bill if a special election is needed there. It will be, in 2014.

Interestingly, candidates elected to the city council agree to "accept the office in the event of his or her election" but no mention is made of how many years of a term they must serve.

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