The Huntington Beach, California, City Council failed to settle on a candidate to replace former mayor pro tem Tito Ortiz during a July 19 meeting.
Ortiz resigned from the council June 1, saying attacks against him put his family at risk.
“As of recent, the attacks against me have moved into involving my family,” Ortiz said when announcing his resignation. “When my children’s safety becomes a matter, I’m a father and I’m going to protect my children.”
After holding various special meetings on how to proceed with Ortiz’ replacement, council initially elected to hold an application process where any Huntington Beach resident could apply. The best candidate would be chosen by the council.
When the application process closed June 18, the city sorted through 190 applications for the position, and interviewed 105 candidates.
Each council member was allowed to choose three finalist candidates to bring to the table during the special meeting July 19, according to City Manager Oliver Chi.
During the meeting, after going through the list of top contenders, the council failed to agree on a single candidate, despite multiple attempts.
Councilman Mike Posey then made a motion to hold a special election, which came to a vote but failed 4–2.
A large crowd showed up to support Gracey Van Der Mark, who was the first runner up in the November 2020 council election, with Ortiz in attendance supporting her.
After trying and failing to decide again between the three finalists—Gracey Van Der Mark, Jeff Morin, and Rhonda Bolton—the council held another vote to have a special election, which ended in a tie due to Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Delgleize switching her vote. The motion again failed.
“If the council either selects the special election option, or if we’re unable to reach consensus on a candidate to replace or to fill the existing vacancy by July 31, what would happen then is a special election would be held on Nov. 2, 2021. We’d have to call for that election no later than Aug. 6, 2021, to actually put it on the ballot,” Chi told the council.
If a special election is held, it will cost taxpayers about $1 million, he added.
“What I’m seeing here is that we’re really at a stalemate on moving forward and naming somebody tonight, and the only thing that’s fair is a special election,” Posey said. “Whether it costs $1 million or $2 million, that’s the cost of democracy.”
Despite Ortiz no longer serving on the council, some council members continued to take shots at him from the dais.
“I think that it’s really on us to pick somebody, and if we can’t do that tonight, then maybe we come back another night later on in the week or next week and pick a choice, but $1 million is a is a lot of money that Mr. Ortiz would be costing the city to have to go out to a special election to fill his seat,” said Councilman Dan Kalmick. “That’s a substantial, substantial sum.”
Councilwoman Natalie Moser said, “The work of the city doesn’t stop because an elected official abandons his position.”
Councilman Erik Peterson, who often supported Ortiz when he was on the council, came to his defense.
“This isn’t Tito’s fault as it has been insinuated,” Peterson said. “When he came on this council, he was very vocal and had his opinions, but whether it be this council or the press or anything, it was politics of personal destruction since day one.
“People on this council, people in this community went after him viciously, more vicious than they’ve gone after any of us. And you know what, he’s a dad, he’s a business owner, and he’s a celebrity. So it actually was starting to affect him. So I don’t blame this on Tito at all.”
The council ultimately decided to adjourn and hold a special meeting within seven days in an attempt to appoint a new council member.