SOUTH GATE — The City Council, acting to defuse a potential political controversy, has voted to hold a special election rather than appoint a new council member to replace Dorothea Lombardo, who died last month.
All four members of the council voted Monday to hold a special election March 7, which would coincide with elections scheduled by other municipalities.
By law, the council could either appoint a successor or call a special election to fill Lombardo's unexpired term. Lombardo, who died Nov. 16 after suffering a stroke, had served about six months of a 4-year term that would have expired in April, 1992.
Councilman Herbert C. Cranton, who had indicated earlier that he favored appointment, said he changed his mind and voted for an election after receiving 12 to 15 phone calls from residents in support of an election. The calls came after Cranton was quoted in The South Gate Press as saying that he favored the appointment option.
He said he initially objected to the costs of a special election, which he estimated at $18,000 to $20,000. "I still hate to spend that kind of money, but I think (an election) is the fair way," he said. City Clerk Janet Stubbs said a special election could cost between $25,000 and $27,000.
Although he voted for the election, Councilman Robert A. Philipp said he would have supported an interim appointment, followed by a special election June 6, when some municipalities also are holding elections. "That way we would not have rushed into anything," he said.
Councilman William H. DeWitt said: "We dearly need the money. The money could pay for half a year's salary of a police officer. From pure dollars and cents it would be better to appoint, but people get very emotional over appointments. They feel they are being shortchanged."
Mayor Del Snavely, who also is a member of the council, said he does not expect the four remaining council members to become deadlocked on a key issue before the special election. The council has approved most proposals unanimously, although Lombardo occasionally cast a lone dissenting vote, he said.
Former Councilman Henry C. Gonzalez, who lost by seven votes in the April 12 election, said he will run for the seat. Others who indicated they will run are Jerry Garcia, a former commissioner on the Civil Service Commission, and David E. Franz, a resident for more than 40 years. Jim Hicklin, now a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said he is considering running.
Gonzalez said he would have accepted an appointment but was inclined to favor an election. "My appointment would have made those favoring others angry." He added, however, that "an appointment would have been fair to me because I only lost by seven votes."
Philipp, who was elected along with Lombardo in April, said he had received a number of phone calls from residents indicating that they were opposed to appointing Gonzalez to the council. "People said they didn't want Mr. Gonzalez. They said they didn't want his philosophy on the council," Philipp said.
Gonzalez and incumbent John Sheehy were defeated by Philipp and Lombardo. Gonzalez filed a complaint in Superior Court, alleging that the city clerk made errors in counting absentee ballots in the race for the two seats. The court ruled that the clerk conducted the election correctly.
Gonzalez had served on the council for six years. He was first elected in 1982 to fill the unexpired term of a member who resigned.
Gonzalez was a vigorous supporter of the city's effort last year to take over Southern California Edison Co.'s business in South Gate. While neither Philipp nor Lombardo attacked Gonzalez or Sheehy directly, both accused the council of trying to take over the electric company's power transmission business in the city without putting the issue before the voters. The council dropped the idea after public protest.
Gonzalez and Sheehy attributed their defeat to the Edison takeover attempt. Sheehy never took a public stand on the issue, but he and Gonzalez ran as a team.
Council candidates have between Dec. 8 and Dec. 29 to file nomination papers.
Gonzalez said he has about $3,000 remaining from the last race. He said it will take about $5,000 to run a successful campaign.
Sheehy said he is not a candidate but will support Gonzalez's campaign.
City Council members are paid $600 a month and receive $150 a month for car allowance.