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Major Impasse - Council Seat Remains Vacant
With an already packed agenda for their Monday afternoon session, members of the Riverbank City Council were met by an equally packed house at the council chambers. There was one issue in particular that several attendees were waiting to see resolved - the issue labeled on the agenda as: 'Reconsider Proposed Appointment Options to Fill the Vacant Councilmember Seat.'

As they have in the past, however, the council deadlocked on how to proceed with filling the seat. The meeting on Monday, Jan. 14 at the council chambers was the quarterly session offered at noon and this one did not end until almost 3 p.m.

The vacancy was discussed toward the end of the meeting and caused the most stir from the crowd. The council seat vacated is the one that now-Mayor Richard O'Brien left when he ran for the mayor's post in November, facing off with and defeating one-term mayor Virginia Madueno. His seat, with two years left on the term, is currently vacant and the council has three options: appoint one of the people that ran in the November election but did not win one of the two council posts that were on the ballot; seek applicants and appoint someone from a new pool of possibilities; or, most costly, have a special election.

O'Brien started the discussion by recollecting talks that took place at the last meeting. Cal Campbell, who ran a strong third in the council race in November, was offered up as an appointee for O'Brien's unexpired term. Councilmembers Dotty Nygard and Darlene Barber-Martinez voted against naming Campbell to the fifth seat on the council, with O'Brien and councilmember Jeanine Tucker voting to appoint him. The same deadlock occurred at the Jan. 14 session.

Nygard said on Monday that she would like to give the public the opportunity to run for the open councilmember seat and Barber-Martinez stated that she would like to "move forward with an open recruitment process for all residents of Riverbank." Both feel there may be other interested candidates, in addition to those that ran previously in November. O'Brien and Tucker stood firm in recommending that the empty seat should go to the candidate that received the next highest number of votes in the 2012 General Municipal Election, which would be Campbell.

"I am supporting the citizens of Riverbank," said O'Brien, who noted that the council deadlock shouldn't be a reason to "override 1771 votes that one individual (Campbell) got."

The council chambers filled with applause after O'Brien made the statement and he eventually had to call the room to order. When O'Brien asked Nygard who she had in mind as a candidate for the open seat, Nygard stated she had no one in mind and neither did Barber-Martinez.

"My rationale is by opening it up to the public, you not only allow the candidates that did run but you now open it up to the entire public and allow anyone else the opportunity to run," said Nygard. "It is the most fair process that I deem fit."

Riverbank residents and others that attended the noontime council meeting were given the opportunity to express their opinions regarding the vacant council seat, among other items on the agenda, with the bulk of comments coming on the vacancy issue. There were a few people that thought it was a good idea to call for a special election but the majority of those attending wanted the city to move forward with Cal Campbell.

"The overwhelming response of the citizens of this community and the support that I got, just blew me away," Campbell said as he took the podium on Monday. "The biggest thing that I will say to you is, I want this council balanced; I want it to function right."

Tucker made a motion that they move forward with the appointment of Campbell and O'Brien gave a second to the motion. The motion failed, however, with two "Yes" votes and two "No" votes. Nygard and Barber-Martinez held their position to continue for open recruitment or special election, so the only thing decided was that there was no decision.

With the votes split, the council seat will remain empty, and unless they reach agreement on filling the slot by Feb. 8, the city will automatically be locked into a special election.

City Manager Jill Anderson said that could cost the city anywhere between $38,000 and $57,000 with the figures based on the number of polls used, printing costs for ballots, and the like.