Orange Council Forgoes Special Election, Appoints Member to Vacant Seat

April 14, 2021 Updated: April 14, 2021

Rather than hold a special election to fill its vacant seat, the City Council of Orange, California, has appointed a new councilmember for District 3.

Kathy Tavoularis, director of community and government relations for the Orange County Auditor-Controller’s Office, will fill the seat vacated by Mike Alvarez following a judge’s ruling that his recent election violated the city’s two-term limit.

The April 13 decision to appoint Tavoularis—rather than hold a special election in November for an estimated cost of $150,000—received criticism from councilwomen Arianna Barrios and Ana Gutierrez, and nearly all of those who offered public comments.

“District 3 voters in Orange were stripped of their democratic privileges for the second time in the past year, and I am deeply troubled by the implications,” Barrios told The Epoch Times via text. “The same individuals who loudly proclaimed no price was too high in support of democracy 18 months ago shamelessly flip-flop to suit their own agendas. I, for one, will continue to fight for transparency and public participation in service of our residents.”

Tavoularis told The Epoch Times she had no concerns being appointed because she is dedicated to the city and residents of Orange.

“I will put my all into helping Orange become better,” she said via email. “I think our first concern is public safety and helping our citizens and businesses navigate back to some sort of normalcy as hopefully COVID concerns decrease.”

Councilman Jon Dumitru told The Epoch Times via text that he was “looking forward to working with Ms. Tavoularis and tackling numerous issues that are facing the city. Specifically, the recovery of the local economy from the overbearing State regulations shutting down our business community.”

Barrios told The Epoch Times previously that she personally didn’t like the idea of spending desperately needed general fund dollars on a special election, “but in the interest of fairness, the District should be given the opportunity to choose their own representative.”

“The current Council Majority was adamant in 2019 that Special Election is the only democratic solution,” she said.

The Council Debate

At the Apr. 13 City Council meeting, the majority perspective changed. The final vote was 4–2, with Barrios and Gutierrez voting against the appointment.

Councilman Chip Monaco said the cost of a special election would be “a terrible waste of taxpayer resources.”

“I just think $10,000 a month for someone to sit up here once a month or twice a month … is an inefficient, ineffective way to spend taxpayer dollars,” he said.

Mayor Mark Murphy agreed. “If we appoint someone now, there are no additional expenses,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Kim Nichols said she was conflicted, because she’s a “very strong advocate for the voters.” However, she noted that voter turnout for recent special elections was notably low, citing turnouts as low as 19 percent in 2020 and 13.2 percent in 2015. “So that’s a lot of money for a very small turnout for a short period of time,” she said.

Barrios then reminded Murphy, Monaco, and Nichols of their support for a special election in 2019—which cost over $425,000, according to estimates—when Murphy’s election as mayor left his seat on the council vacant.

“So I guess my question to my colleagues is: What has changed?” she said, adding that the city can afford a special election.

According to Monaco, if the council hadn’t held a special election in 2019, the councilmember would have been appointed for four years, whereas a current appointment will only last for 16 months before the appointee must face reelection in November 2022.

Gutierrez emphasized the rights of the public. “If you cared about the people back then, you care about them now. And that hasn’t changed. It shouldn’t change,” she said.

‘The Right Way’

Attendees who spoke out in favor of a special election included Daniel Correa, a former city planning commissioner; Alison Martin, who applied to fill the vacancy herself; Doug Westfall, a local historian; John Russo, Alvarez’s opponent in the November election; and Michael MacIsaac, the citizen who filed the lawsuit that led to Alvarez’s ousting.

“Only a special election provides the transparency and reparations required for the city,” MacIsaac said. “So I ask that you do the right thing. Fix this the right way. Hold a special election.”

Michael Fisher, a 33-year resident of Orange, said that if the council chose to appoint someone to the District 3 office, the spot should go to Russo because he was the runner-up to Alvarez.

“He campaigned, he knocked on doors, talked to voters, [and] he spent his time, resources, and money to run and win the race, even though he came up a little short,” Fisher said. “For the City Council to appoint someone who was never involved in that race … and has never received a single vote would not be acceptable to myself or to many other voters in District 3.”

Correa, the former planning commissioner, spoke out in favor of Russo because he’s “not a ‘Yes Man.’”

“I have my suspicions that you’re going to appoint not because you want a team player, but a person who you can manipulate,” Correa said.

Dumitru, who’s known Tavoularis and her family for 20 years, described the new councilwoman as a dedicated member of the community who has resided in Orange for over 35 years. Murphy said she brings a wealth of experience to the position, citing her professional credits and volunteer efforts.

Prior to her current position, Tavoularis was a senior adviser and executive director for the California Delegation to the Republican National Convention. In 2006, she spearheaded a statewide “get out the vote” campaign to reelect Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Tavoularis earned her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from California State University–Long Beach. She will likely be sworn in to her new position at the council’s next scheduled meeting on April 27.