The Richmond City Council has adopted an ordinance that will allow a degree of public participation in making appointments to vacant council seats.

Under the new law, a list of all candidates will be made public, as will their written position statements. Candidates also will be allowed to give five-minute presentations during a council meeting, after which individual council members will ask them questions.

The public will then have an opportunity to make comments on the candidates and their positions. Then the council will vote on the candidates until one receives a majority vote of the nine-member council.

The new ordinance is similar to policies in other Contra Costa cities such as Martinez, Pittsburg and Concord. In Berkeley and Oakland, however, council appointments require special elections depending on the length of the term to be served out.

Councilman John Marquez proposed the Richmond ordinance after the council was heavily criticized in January for appointing Human Relations commissioner Harpreet Sandhu without letting the public know the identity of other candidates or where they stood on critical city issues. The exclusion of the public created an impression that special interests and political expediency were driving the council's decision.

Following the appointment, dozens of residents complained bitterly to the council.

"I never saw the kind of reaction that we did after the last appointment," Marquez said before the council adopted the law Tuesday.


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"We blew it, so let's fix it."

Vice Mayor Nat Bates was concerned that if anyone is allowed to apply for a vacant council seat, the process will be abused by ax grinders, pranksters or those unqualified to serve Richmond residents.

"You'll have every Tom, Dick and Harry coming forward -- some who this council would never support -- and it will create a circus atmosphere," Bates said. "It will be like 'American Idol' in here with people who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket."

Bates ultimately supported the ordinance after Marquez amended it to require that applicants get the endorsement of 20 registered Richmond voters.

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin voted against the ordinance because she wanted more public input on any new law that affects public representation. She also called for a public review of the 100-year-old city charter, which omits the public from the appointment process.

"We should put this in the hands of a citizen committee to look at what other ideas are out there for a temporary solution," she said Thursday. "Then we want a large amount of public input to consider how we should change the charter."

Richmond resident and political activist Juan Reardon called the new ordinance "twisted," "worthless" and a "travesty."

"You only want to give the appearance of public participation," he said. "The people of Richmond want to elect their own representatives; they don't want just five residents to make that decision for them."

Contact John Geluardi at 510-262-2787 or at jgeluardi@cctimes.com