SOCCCD Appoints Fuentes Successor Over Family’s Objections; Will Petition Drive Launch to Invalidate Appointment?
Posted by Chris Nguyen on June 26, 2012
Many of you may have read Frank Mickadeit’s column about the insensitive manner in which the South Orange County Community College District Board of Trustees dealt with the vacancy in the Trustee Area 6 seat that resulted from the untimely passing of Tom Fuentes. For those of you who haven’t read it, here are some excerpts:
Tom Fuentes had been dead just 72 hours before the long-fractured community college board on which he sat decided to appoint a replacement.
It seemed like a rather stunning affront to the Fuentes family…
Fuentes died very late on Friday, May 18. That Monday, the board majority decided over the objection of trustee David Lang to immediately solicit applicants for Fuentes’ seat, with the selection to be made at the June meeting.
Before the formal vote, Lang once more begged his colleagues to let voters decide the seat in November and called them out for making such a nakedly political decision. The seat will be on the ballot in November anyway, but by giving the seat to Wright now, he’ll have the power of incumbency. “A majority of the board is slanting the election in a trustee’s favor,” he said.
This allegation seemed to perturb board President Nancy Padberg, who tersely replied, “The board has decided and will move on.” When T. J. Fuentes told the board he was “very disturbed by the fact that the board had decided to appoint somebody before my father was even buried,” Padberg replied that, “it had to be processed timely.”
A number of people have expressed their consternation with the way the SOCCCD Trustees handled the entire process. Many have expressed the wish that the trustees had simply allowed the voters to fill the seat in the November election rather than fill the seat via appointment for the incumbency advantages Lang outlined above.
Last night, the trustees voted 5-1 to appoint James Wright, an outgoing dean at Saddleback College. I’m not aware of any objections to Wright himself, but the objections to the appointment have centered on two different rationales:
- As Mickadeit wrote, “the manner in which the board went about it, and the dismissive, disrespectful way it treated Jolene Fuentes and her and Tom’s oldest son, T.J., both of whom expressed their anguish to the board on Monday only to receive stone-cold silence or indifference from the majority.”
- Trustee Lang’s argument that since the seat was up for election in November anyway, why not just let the voters pick the new trustee in November?
As it turns out, Education Code Section 5091(c)(1) lays out a procedure to invalidate the appointment (I’ve bolded the key portions):
If a provisional appointment is made within the 60-day period, the registered voters of the district may, within 30 days from the date of the appointment, petition for the conduct of a special election to fill the vacancy. A petition shall be deemed to bear a sufficient number of signatures if signed by at least the number of registered voters of the district equal to 11/2 percent of the number of registered voters of the district at the time of the last regular election for governing board members, or 25 registered voters, whichever is greater. However, in districts with registered voters of less than 2,000 persons, a petition shall be deemed to bear a sufficient number of signatures if signed by at least 5 percent of the number of registered voters of the district at the time of the last regular election for governing board members.
The last regular election for governing board members in SOCCCD was on November 2, 2010. According to the Statement of Vote for that election, there 549,192 registered voters in SOCCCD at that election. From that number, 1.5% is equal to 8,238 signatures.
If those signatures are collected, the appointment will be invalidated. Now some of you may notice the petition would create a special election. Indeed a special election would be an obscene waste of money since the seat expires in less than five months. As it turns out, Education Code Section 5093(c) deals with that:
If a special election pursuant to Section 5091 could be consolidated with the next regular election for governing board members, and the vacant position is scheduled to be filled at such regular election, there shall be no special election.
In other words, if the seat is up in a few months in the regular election anyway, the special election would be cancelled, and the voters would simply fill the seat at the regular election. So if a petition is launched immediately and gathers 8,238 valid signatures from registered voters within SOCCCD by July 25, the appointment would be invalidated, and the SOCCCD Trustee Area 6 seat would remain vacant until the voters filled it for the usual four-year term at the regular election in November – and no one would have the advantage of incumbency in that regular election in November.
With the Fuentes family’s deep political ties across Orange County, will someone step up in the next few days to launch a petition drive to invalidate the appointment to the SOCCCD Trustee Area 6 seat, allowing the voters to pick Fuentes’s successor in November?