YORBA LINDA — It's only one City Council seat, but whoever is elected Tuesday to the vacant post will have more power than anyone to help define the city's future.
Seven candidates are vying for the seat left vacant by Gene Wisner's resignation in September. Since then, the four-member City Council has been hopelessly deadlocked on one of Yorba Linda's most pressing issues: what to do with City Manager Arthur C. Simonian.
All candidates agree that Simonian should no longer work for the city, but they differ on whether to go for a legal settlement or fight the matter out in court.
Simonian was fired by the City Council in September for alleged financial malfeasance but was reinstated by a judge who ruled that Simonian was dismissed improperly. Simonian is now on paid administrative leave.
The city is suing Simonian to recover as much as $300,000 in bonuses he allegedly paid himself without the council's authorization. Simonian, who said the bonuses were permitted under the terms of his contract, has in turn sued the city seeking his job back.
The top runners in this election--Ken Ryan and David Christian--mirror the divisions among council members on the Simonian issue. Ryan said he would consider a settlement with Simonian to save the city money. Christian said he believes the city should pursue its lawsuit and get "lost money back."
Ryan, a city planning commissioner, collected about five times more money than other candidates, with a total campaign chest of $20,287 that included a $5,000 loan he made to his campaign. He was endorsed by the Brea Police Officials Assn. Brea police patrol Yorba Linda as well as their own city.
Christian came in second in local campaign support with $3,270 in contributions. He loaned his campaign an additional $2,780 for a total of $6,050. Christian also got an endorsement from a group of past and present elected city officials who endorsed Mayor John M. Gullixson in his race for Superior Court judge.
The other candidates in the race, Ryan Clark, Keith deBrucky, Art Gerdes, Jim Kapko and Ken Stewart, have not received the public attention that Ryan and Christian have. Clark, Stewart and Kapko have kept a low profile and filed campaign statements saying they would not spend or collect any money for the election. Gerdes and deBrucky loaned themselves $9,500 and $639.21, respectively, for their races and did not receive contributions from the public.
Both Ryan and Christian said dealing with the Simonian issue will be their top priority.
"I don't think Simonian should return," Ryan said. "We need to look at solutions to put it behind us."
Christian said the city must fight the matter out in court.
"He has lost the trust of the City Council," Christian said. "We must make sure we get all lost money back."
The current four-member council has deadlocked consistently on matters related to Simonian. Gullixson has tried twice to get the panel to reach a vote to fire the longtime city manager, but failed. He plans to bring the matter up for another vote Tuesday, but the council is expected to deadlock again.
Until the Simonian issue is settled, the city will continue to pay his salary as well as that of Interim City Manager Daniel Miller. Simonian's contract says he cannot be fired fewer than 120 days after an election, and that he must receive a 90-day notice before his termination takes effect.
Unless he is fired Tuesday before the polls close at 8 p.m., Simonian will remain on the city payroll at least until October, based on those terms.