On the day that Susan Gorin will be sworn in as the new Sonoma County 1st District supervisor, her former colleagues on the Santa Rosa City Council will begin the politically delicate task of replacing her.
Several key questions facing the council Tuesday will determine how they'll go about filling the vacancy.
Should they let the voters decide in a special election?
Should they take applications from residents, conduct interviews and appoint someone themselves?
Or should they just cut to the chase and award the seat to the next highest vote-getter from November?
Answering these and other questions about the appointment process will be a test of sorts for the recently realigned council, now led by Mayor Scott Bartley with newcomer Erin Carlstrom as vice mayor.
The answers also could help determine the balance of power on an ideologically divided council split between three members backed by business and development interests, two supported by environmental and neighborhood groups, and one, Carlstrom, with backers from both camps.
"It's going to make for some interesting council-watching in the near future," said Tim Aboudara, political director for the Santa Rosa Firefighters IAFF Local 1401.
Whether to hold an election may prove the easiest decision. An election would be expensive and probably couldn't take place until November.
The county registrar estimates a special election would cost taxpayers between $167,000 and $292,000. And, because of the way the law is written, the next available date for an election might be Nov. 5, according to City Attorney Caroline Fowler.
That's because the council presumably wouldn't opt for an election until it at least tries to find an appointee, Fowler said. That process of advertising for the opening, taking applications, interviewing candidates and making a decision could take several weeks.
The council has until March 1, which is 60 days from the date Gorin resigned, to select an appointee. If the council can't decide or chooses not to appoint someone, an election would be held at the next regular election date at least 114 days out. That could make it hard to hit the June 4 election date, leaving Nov. 5 the earliest possible election, Fowler said.
That puts additional pressure on the council to make the decision soon because otherwise it risks months of 3-3 gridlock on controversial issues.
All of which tells Aboudara that the council is almost certain to go through some kind of appointment process.
"Because of the cost and time involved, they are going to have to pick somebody," Aboudara said.
But if history is any guide, the appointment process can be a challenging, politically polarizing endeavor.
One reason is because an appointee could end up deciding key issues and also a significant leg up on the competition for the next election.
That became a divisive issue in 2007, when three-term councilman Mike Martini resigned.
To defuse the concern about the incumbency advantage, that council ultimately required potential appointees to promise they wouldn't run in 2008. Out of a pool of 21 applicants, the council selected Carol Dean, in part because of her non-binding vow not to run.
But after 10 months on the council, the West End resident and member of Board of Public Utilities decided to run. She was vilified for it and lost in 2008.