By Mike Allen
August 28, 2022 (Santee) -- In a first for the city of Santee, two incumbent members of the City Council were appointed to another four-year term and will avoid the November election, because no challengers in either district filed papers to challenge them.
Rob McNelis in District 1 and Ronn Hall in District 2 were both approved to continue representing their areas by the same 4-0-1 vote at the Council’s Aug. 24 meeting. Each of the incumbents abstained during the vote on their own district.
According to a report on the issue by City Clerk Annette Ortiz, no candidate in either district filed for challenging the incumbents by the deadline of Aug. 12. The city could still hold an election, but by appointing the two, it stood to save between $16,000 to $36,000.
Hall, who runs his own insurance brokerage, will be serving in his third term on the Council. He was first elected in 2014, and re-elected in 2018, beating challenger Rudy Reyes.
“It’s nice not having somebody running against me,” Hall said. He said a lot of people are likely burned out by the pandemic, and just aren’t interested in running for political office.
He speculated that when the city changed to holding district elections in 2018 it gave incumbents a big advantage, and discouraged challengers, who likely have limited name recognition and less knowledge of how to stage a campaign.
The city decided to adopt district elections because of the threat of a lawsuit by an outside attorney who was suing any city in the state that didn’t do so, Hall said. “At the time, they said doing this would create more diversity on boards, but in reality, it didn’t solve the problem,” he observed.
Santee has some racial and ethnic minority residents among its population of about 60,000, but they are spread our fairly evenly throughout the four districts, unlike several districts in the city of San Diego that are dominated by certain minority groups.
Hall said he had heard a few rumors about possible challengers leading up to the deadline, but nothing materialized. He expected to spend about $4,000 to $5,000 on the now unnecessary campaign. In the previous two campaigns Hall raised $13,000 for the first one and about $8,000 in 2018, including about $3,500 of his own money. He said for this year he collected only one check of $300, which was returned to the donor.
McNelis, who owns a mortgage brokerage, was first elected to the council in 2010, and reelected in 2014 and 2018, when he defeated Evelyn Andrade-Heymsfield. He ran for mayor in 2016, and was defeated by the current mayor, John Minto. Santee’s mayor is elected by all city voters.
McNelis didn’t return telephone calls for comment about his appointment to his fourth term.
While the city passed a term limits law in 2020, the limitations only apply to newly elected members, not those who were on the council before the law was passed.