“I was stunned when we had 110 applications … I find it almost hard to believe,” Councilman Mike Posey told The Epoch Times on June 16. “I did not envision that we would have 110 applicants. I figured 20 because there’s typically 12 to 15 people that actually run.”
Ortiz stepped down from his seat on June 1, during the council’s first in-person meeting of the year.
“I ran for this position with hopes to better my community, work with my constituents and give them a voice, making our beautiful city safe and clean, and to ensure a bright future for my children,” Ortiz said when announcing his resignation. “I was under a notion that I was in a bipartisan position and … to put it frankly, that’s not the case.”
The council on June 10 unanimously approved replacing the outgoing councilman via an application process, rather than a costly election.
Huntington Beach Councilman Erik Peterson said the city should appoint Gracey Van Der Mark, who ran for city council in 2020. She received the fourth-highest number of votes in a race with three vacant seats.
“It is the people’s seat; it’s not the council’s seat,” Peterson said during a June 10 council meeting.
“We’re supposed to pick, but the people already picked for us.”
Since 1995, the Huntington Beach Council has appointed an individual to fill a councilmember vacancy on three separate occasions.
In each case, the appointed individual served less than half a term.
Peterson said the current situation is different, since the new councilmember will serve nearly a “complete term” of around 3 1/2 years. Ortiz was elected last November.
“It just seems a prudent thing to do,” Peterson said. “I mean a full term—the election just happened.”
Speaking to The Epoch Times, Van Der Mark said the decision to appoint the runner-up of the election would show consideration to voters.
“They’d be taking the voters into account more if they would go down and select the first runner up, than if they just take it upon themselves—six people out on the council—to make that decision,” she said.
Van Der Mark submitted her application to fill Ortiz’s vacancy on June 15.
However, she said she is not confident the council will appoint her because she shares “similar views” to Ortiz—who nearly had his mayor pro tem title removed by the council due to his anti-mask stance.
“To be honest, I don’t believe they will choose me,” she said. “I have different personal and political views than [the council], and even though this is a nonpartisan seat, I do believe that they are taking more of a partisan approach. I mean, I ran with Tito. We ran under very similar views for our city, such as no high density, representation for the residents and not special interests, and preserving our suburban beach community.”
Van Der Mark was appointed by Ortiz to the planning commission. She, along with all of the other appointees Ortiz made to the city’s boards and commissions, will need to vacate their positions by July 1.
The positions will remain vacant until the incoming councilmember makes new appointments.
“I thought they should probably let us stay on until the new council is appointed, and then you replace them, so that the city can continue to go on with city business,” Van Der Mark said. “But once again, that’s part of the charter and those are the rules, so that’s what they’re following.”
Van Der Mark said the city council is in for a “big surprise” on how many applications it will receive because it is much easier to “put in an application and go in for an interview than it is to go out and campaign.”
Posey said there has been an email campaign for Van Der Mark, along with the fifth-place candidate, Oscar Rodriguez.
“The majority of the emails are for Gracey Van Der Mark, followed closely by Oscar Rodriguez,” he said.
Posey said of the emails he received in support for Van Der Mark that they call on the council to appoint her because “she came in fourth place and she’s most closely aligned with Tito and you’re getting another Tito if you vote for Gracey.”
“The emails for Oscar Rodriguez say that he’s the ultimate candidate to Mr. Ortiz, because his politics are the opposite of Mr. Ortiz.”
Council must fill the seat by July 31, or the city will hold a standalone election that will cost about $1 million, City Manager Oliver Chi said during a June 10 council meeting.
Chi said the election could be consolidated with the gubernatorial recall election, which would cost roughly half the amount of a standalone election. However, the logistics of consolidating the election are “daunting” because there is no set date for the governor’s recall election.
The application process opened June 11, and applications will be accepted until June 18 at 5 p.m.
Applications and interviews will take place leading up to the July 31 deadline. If the council cannot conduct all interviews within that time frame, it must hold an election.
If a majority of the council cannot agree on an applicant, a special election would be triggered.
Posey said, “We want to give everybody an equal opportunity to explain why they should be appointed or elected” to the city council.