By Bill Crotty
March 13, 2012 (El Cajon) – El Cajon City Council approved Mayor Mark Lewis' motion to appoint a replacement for recently-resigned Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Hanson-Cox at yesterday's council meeting, despite numerous community members who asked to be considered for the slot.
The Mayor has indicated that he intends to choose a replacement, to be approved by Council, and will not accept applications from the public.
"I feel like all we said was not heard at all," said Bonnie Price, an East County activist concerned with the transparency of the process being used to replace Hanson-Cox. "There is widespread belief in El Cajon, and beyond, that only members of a certain religious group are allowed to serve on the council."
Prior to the 18 people who addressed the council on the agenda item of vacancy on city council, Mayor Lewis said he planned to nominate candidates and have the council vote. The process he described meant that if more than three votes are in favor of the replacement picked by the council, then the candidate will be affirmed, but if not then the process will repeat.
"I will throw out a name, my choice, hopefully receive three votes, if not then repeat," he said.
An employee in the city clerk's office later clarified that each councilmember is supposed to also come up with recommended names.
Several speakers following Lewis' announcement came forward to submit themselves as candidates for the position, including Republicans and Democrats, labor, minorities and local business people. Two received additional endorsements from other speakers and several more asked for an alternative to appointment.
Ray Lutz, founder of the government watchdog group Citizens Oversight, who spoke before the council several times, urged the council to consider an alternative method and also pointed out that Lewis was "making a proposal before even listening to what people had to say," and encouraged the council to not decide on appointment.
"I fully support appointment," former Council candidate Duane Swainston said, following with the idea to appoint the runner-up from the previous election as a way to follow a democratic process that would not require a special election.
Vickie Butcher, who holds a law degree and previously ran for a Council seat, also indicated interest in the position and said she had 12 years experience working for the city serving on the planning commission. She has also taught school and headed up international business conferences, and won international awards for leading nonprofit humanitarian efforts. Two people rose to speak in favor of an appointment for Butcher.
John Martes, a 70-year El Cajon resident, gave a strong warning to the council earlier in the meeting about their actions concerning the performing arts center. Martes asked that whoever is appointed be someone who will not run for reelection in November.
Among others seeking appointment to the vacant city council position was Ben Kalasho, who was supported by several other attendees. Kelasho said if the council is looking for someone with family values, or is a proven job creator, then he would be the one. Kalasho attended grade school in El Cajon and graduated from UCSD with a degree in economics. He now runs two businesses in El Cajon and said he employs 50 local residents.
Another option voiced was for an application process during an open session in which the council could hear from candidates meeting the minimum qualifications and then decide, which just one councilmember voiced support for.
"I would like to discuss the idea of taking applications," Councilmember Bill Wells said, after the idea was presented. But Lewis indicated that despite the number of individuals that had just spoken, there were enough qualified people without pursuing that option.
Jonathan Goetz also spoke to the council, reminding those present that the position in question was vacated in light of an investigation, not an indictment, but also commented that he didn't believe the council has the ability to be impartial in the matter of appointment.