The West Hollywood City Council has apparently reached a consensus favoring a special election in November to replace Valerie Terrigno, who resigned from the council last week after being sentenced on a federal embezzlement conviction.
Three council members and an aide to a fourth council member said they expect the council to unanimously approve a special election to fill Terrigno's seat.
"I don't see any other way to go but hold a special election," Councilwoman Helen Albert said. "I think that's what the community would want."
Letter of Resignation
Terrigno, who was convicted of embezzling $9,000 in federal funds intended for unemployed and homeless people in Hollywood, resigned Wednesday. She said she sent a resignation letter to city officials several hours before U.S. District Judge Laughlin Waters sentenced her to 60 days in custody (Waters recommended a halfway house), placed her on five years probation and ordered her to repay $7,000 and perform 1,000 hours of community service.
Her resignation was, in fact, a formality. She would still have had to leave office after Waters signed the judgment against her. Once the judgment is transmitted to the city, the council has 30 days to decide how to replace her.
According to city officials, the city has three options: a council appointment of a successor to serve the remainder of Terrigno's four-year term, which expires in November, 1988; a special election, which could be held, at the earliest, during the November general election, or a council appointment of a successor who would serve only until a November general election.
But all four council members have said they would be most comfortable with the special election option. "Everything I've heard leans toward a special election," Mayor John Heilman said. "I don't think anyone's looking seriously at any other option."
$13,000 Cost for Election
City Clerk Mary Tyson said a special election would cost the city about $13,000. Because the special election would be consolidated with the county-run November election, the county would manage the selection of precincts and poll workers, Tyson said. Candidates for the vacant council slot would be able to file for the race between mid-July and mid-August, she added.
City officials said letters and phone calls coming in from West Hollywood residents have also urged a special election. "We haven't had droves of responses, but what we've heard seems to indicate that people want a special election," said Paul Koretz, an aide to Councilman Alan Viterbi, who could not be reached.
The option of an appointment of a council member to serve the remainder of Terrigno's term is unlikely, Heilman said, because of the difficulty the council would face in agreeing on an appointment--a situation not helped by the often-polarized nature of politics in West Hollywood. "I don't see how we all could agree on one person," he said.
The council's second alternative--appointing an interim council member until the special election--has similarly found little support because of the potential problem of agreeing on one person and because of council members' fears that whoever was chosen would then have a strong advantage if they chose to run in the November race.
"There's nothing that would stop an interim council person from running, and I think that just by being on the council, they'd have an unfair advantage," Albert said.
At least one council member, Stephen Schulte, still holds out hope that a temporary appointment to the council could work. "There are two good reasons I'd like to see it discussed," Schulte said. "For one, six months is a long time to keep that seat open. And there might be some instances where council business could be held up because of two-to-two ties."
Schulte said council consideration of the city budget, increases in service programs and the issue of affordable housing could all be stymied by factional splits. "I just think we should study the idea before we pronounce it dead," he said.
Schulte added that he hoped an interim council candidate could be found who would be willing not to run in the special election. "I realize that's a tall order, but we should pursue it," he said.
Several council members said they expected that the council could function efficiently with four members. "We've done just fine for the past two months," said Heilman, referring to the fact that Terrigno became inactive as a council member after her federal conviction in March.
Koretz believes that the council could end up working together more closely as a result of the loss of Terrigno. "I can see some positive side effects here," Koretz said. "It could make the council work in a less factionalized way than it's been in the past. That could only be for the better."