After operating for three years under an election law that has spawned confusion and lawsuits, the Irvine City Council will hear a recommendation tonight on how to fix the law before the next council election.
The proposed solution is aimed at making the election process "clear, understandable, constitutional and accepted by the public," Councilwoman Paula Werner said last week.
The problem arose in 1987 when voters changed the election law to allow for the direct election of the mayor.
The law says that when a sitting council member runs for and is elected mayor with time remaining on his or her council term--which happened both in 1988 and 1990--the unexpired term will be filled by the council candidate who lost by the fewest votes. That method was complicated by Measure D, a voter-approved amendment in 1988, which says that the seat must instead be filled by a special election if 7% of the city's voters sign a petition demanding it.
Legal challenges to the wording of Measure D were filed after both elections, leading to legal bills of more than $200,000 for the city.
In the latest legal challenge over the city's election law, an appeals court justice ruled last October that Irvine's current system seemed of "dubious constitutionality."
In December, the City Council unanimously agreed that the election law needed fixing. The council created an ad hoc election reform committee composed of Werner, Councilman William A. (Art) Bloomer, City Manager Paul O. Brady Jr., City Clerk Nancy C. Lacey and City Atty. John L. Fellows.
After meeting twice, the committee decided that the best way to fix the election law is to allow voters to cast ballots for a third City Council candidate in elections in which sitting council members run for mayor. The lowest vote-getter would take office only if an existing council member is elected mayor, creating the third open seat.
This solution was considered the best of seven options considered, according to a committee report that was distributed to council members last Friday.
A problem with this solution is the difficulty in explaining this method to voters on the ballot and in voting materials, the report said. But this solution removes the need for calling a special election to fill the open seat and avoids having a four-member council while the special election is being arranged.
In case the council is ready to make a decision tonight the report includes the legal wording necessary to change the city's election law to enact the committee's preferred solution. The report also includes language for the alternate solution of always filling a vacancy through special election.
The proposed solution would have to be placed on the ballot for voter approval.
According to the report, likely times to place the proposed election amendment on the ballot would be this November and in June, 1992, when city voters will be going to the polls for non-municipal elections.