Richmond City Council fails to fill vacant seat for a second week
on February 18, 2015
On Tuesday night, for the second week in a row, the Richmond City Council failed to agree on a candidate to fill the vacant council seat. Following motions to appoint Sheryl E. Lane and Vinay Pimple, neither of which passed, Mayor Tom Butt postponed the decision to next week.
The vacant seat was created last month when Butt, a former councilman, ascended to the mayoral seat. The six current councilmembers are empowered to appoint someone to fill the seat, with four votes needed to confirm an appointment. Eighteen candidates have applied to fill the seat.
Unlike at last week’s meeting, Butt used his discretion to allow councilmembers to make remarks about candidates before the nomination process. No further public comments about candidates were allowed, as the agenda item was already open to public comment at the last meeting.
In her remarks, Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles said her first choice of candidate was fellow Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) member Marilyn Langlois, but added that she could “see that there’s not a will [for Langlois] on this council.”
Speaking to her alternate choice of candidate, whom she did not specifically name, Beckles cited demographic information showing that Richmond’s Latino population grew to 42,600 people – about 40 percent of Richmond’s population – in 2013. “It seems to me that this council should represent the population of our community, should it not?” Beckles said. “So it seems to me that we need a woman, and we need her to be Latin American.”
Councilwoman Gayle McLaughlin did not name any specific candidates but repeatedly stressed that her priority in a candidate was their community involvement. “I think we all bring our own criteria to this decision-making process, and to me it’s really important that the appointee has ongoing experience out in the community,” she said.
Vice Mayor Jael Myrick stated his support for Sheryl E. Lane, a public policy director at the nonprofit Earned Assets Resource Network (EARN), which advocates for low-wage workers’ financial success. “Ms. Lane has proven progressive and she has worked on every single major issue you would want someone to have experience with,” Myrick said. “She’s a Richmond product, a graduate of De Anza High School who’s raising a child as a single mother here in the community, and just to bring that perspective to the council is something that could be very, very powerful.”
The candidate appointment has stirred passionate debate among Richmond community members since the special council meeting on February 10, when the council first had an opportunity to appoint a candidate to the seat.
Earlier this week, Butt referred in his e-newsletter to the hubbub of “accusations, opinions and analyses with discussion of plots and subplots, blocs, mandates, disappointments, promises broken, betrayals, the Brown Act and entitlements” over the appointment to the vacant seat, adding, “I have received hundreds of emails.”
He denied in the e-newsletter that the city council is divided into two camps, with the RPA councilmembers on the one hand, and Butt and Myrick on the other hand. “The suggestion that there are two ‘blocs’ on the City Council is ridiculous,” Butt wrote in his e-newsletter. “If there is, in fact, a bloc, it consists of five of us, not three, and excludes only Nat Bates.”
Last week, at the first council meeting to discuss the vacant seat, eight candidates were nominated and only seven received a second motion to be put to the vote. The council voted and deadlocked on all seven candidates before adjourning.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, only two candidates – Sheryl E. Lane and Vinay Pimple – were nominated and put to a vote. Myrick moved to appoint Lane, with Butt seconding the motion. Martinez, McLaughlin and Bates abstained, and Beckles voted no.
Bates then moved to appoint Pimple, an attorney, writing coach and math tutor. Martinez seconded the motion. Myrick, McLaughlin and Butt abstained, and Beckles again voted no.
Butt then made the appointment an agenda item for next week’s meeting.
There was a strong show of support among the audience for candidate Claudia Jimenez, with many audience members holding yellow signs reading “Claudia Jimenez: Yes!” Jimenez, a former community organizer with Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO), said she put herself forward as a candidate because many community members asked her to do so. “Many of the leaders I have worked with, many of the immigrant communities I have worked with, they are so engaged,” Jimenez said. “And they are learning how these processes go. We need that in the city. Some of them say, ‘Oh Claudia, I cannot vote, but these processes have allowed me to have a voice that otherwise I didn’t have. And now these processes have allowed me to come and speak on behalf of who I want to put in that seat.’”
Candidate Sheryl Lane, when asked about McLaughlin’s priority for a candidate with credentials in community involvement, said she coordinated the Richmond Equitable Development Initiative, which addresses affordable housing and foreclosure issues, and is currently chair of the Richmond Planning Commission. “I don’t think there’s one way to work in the community,” Lane said after the meeting. “I still work with low-income, low-wage families [at EARN]. That’s my work. It’s not here in Richmond, but it impacts people throughout the Bay Area.”
The city council has until March 13 to make an appointment. If the council does not decide before the deadline, the decision will be put to voters in a special election. Including matching funds for candidates, a special election would likely cost $500,000, according to City Clerk Diane Holmes.
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