During the Reno City Council meeting held Friday, the council voted to move forward with an appointment process rather than a special election to replace former Ward 5 Council member Neoma Jardon. The process must be finalized within 30 days of the vacancy.
The council decided to go forward with an appointment process, citing the fact that, without an appointment, Ward 5 would be without representation for at least seven months on both City Council as well as on several commissions.
That was because of time estimates provided by city staff and the Washoe County registrar of voters for how long it would take to run a special election.
Jardon submitted a letter of resignation on Aug. 8, with a final date of Aug. 15. The current Ward 5 term extends through November 2024.
Councilmember Naomi Duerr questioned why it would take so long to hold a special election to fill the seat.
Staff said the registrar of voters’ office is not available or accessible to the city council until after the November general election.
The council could have called for a special election, which would start the process in January 2023, and hold a vote in February 2023. With this option, Ward 5 would be empty of representation through March or April of 2023.
The cost for a special election would be approximately $102,000.
Councilmember Jenny Brekhus said she does not approve of appointments.
“I have strong reservations if this body decides to go through with an appointment, and even participating,” she said. “I don’t know that I would want to legitimize what I believe is a political farce.”
Mayor Hillary Schieve asked staff to explain why they would not be able to put the Ward election on the upcoming November 2022 general election ballot.
Staff responded that in elections law, there is a specific amount of time a candidate is allotted to file for office, which is followed by a specific amount of time for candidate preparation and a specific amount of time for the election to take place.
By state law, the council could choose to appoint an individual with the same qualifications to fill the seat for the rest of the term. With the option of an appointment, Ward 5 would be empty of representation only through September 2022.
Staff stated that legally, it would take approximately seven months for the special election to conclude and place a representative into Ward 5.
Many on the council said they were “shocked” and “stunned” by the timeline.
Schieve said, while she had been in support of a special election for the sake of democratic representation, she was very concerned about the length of time that Ward 5 would have no representation.
“My concern is, there are other boards and commissions that she serves on that really need representation in Ward 5,” Schieve said. “That’s a long time . I’m very shocked.”
Duerr agreed that she had been in favor of a special election as well – however, she said that she did her research, and discovered there is precedent, as there has not been a special election held in the City of Reno for over 30 years.
Vacancies during active terms have always been filled by appointments, she added.
“While I agree with the end result, because I’m very much leaning towards a special election, I don’t necessarily do it for the same reasons ,” she said. “I do it because I think that the ideals in democracy rely on representative elections.”
Duerr stated that she was stunned by the timeline and didn’t even know if she agreed with it.
“I think we need to go ask the question, even if we have to schedule another meeting, to the registrar because these almost seem like … I get that you’re short staffed, but this is very important,” Duerr said. “Even if we have to bring in extra staffing, the seat needs to be filled as soon as possible.”
Councilmember Reese disagreed with the idea that appointments are undemocratic. Reese was appointed to his seat in 2019 to replace former council member David Bobzien.
“The principle that appointments in this country are undemocratic is false,” he claimed. “So President Trump appointed 4,000 persons to office. vacancies are filled by the governor in 37 states.”
Reese said he didn’t understand how governors are allowed to appoint senators, but the council is questioning whether or not they should allow appointments to their own council.
Schieve stated that during the appointment process, the public would be able to participate, and that there would be meet and greets so ward residents could get to know the candidates.
“All of us are very accessible,” said Schieve. “If there is a candidate you really like, put your support behind them.”
The council voted to move forward with the appointment process, with Council member Bonnie Weber voting against it. Brekhus did not vote, as she left the meeting for a pre-scheduled medical appointment. Jardon did not attend the meeting.
During public comment, most members of the public who spoke stated that they would like to see a special election, while some others disagreed and said they wanted to see the seat filled as soon as possible.
Critics of the appointment process said council members could end up selecting their friends or colleagues to secure like minds on the council.
Eddie Lorton, who is running for Reno mayor, said the council should hold a special election to replace the seat instead of simply appointing someone to fill the position.
Resident Gordon Gossage urged the council to fill the seat as quickly as possible by appointment, stating that elected leaders need to create a united front of leadership ahead of the November election.
Resident Kurt Gottschalk said that there should be a special election, and there should be term limits for those who serve. “Democracy is an election. Democracy isn’t appointments.”
The city clerk’s office will begin accepting applications next week. The council will interview the finalists and make the final appointment in September.