The Cotati City Council voted 4-0 Wednesday to seek applicants to fill a vacancy on the dais created by the resignation of Pat Gilardi, who is taking a job with new 1st District County Supervisor Susan Gorin.
In doing so, council members looked past the results of November's election, in which the first runner-up was former Councilman George Barich. He was recalled in 2009 and remains a vociferous critic of the city's government.
The council could have appointed someone by fiat or from a field of applicants, or called a special election.
"This is a different time, this is many months later," Mayor Mark Landman said after the vote, when asked why he had favored appointing a successor to Gilardi, but not Barich.
"We may have a different set of candidates, and you can't say how the electorate might feel at this point."
Landman, who was himself appointed to the council in 2009, said "I think we have a better chance for the public to have input this way."
Barich told the council the fairest course of action would be to appoint him to replace Gilardi.
"This vacancy coming so close to the last election, logic dictates I be appointed," said Barich, who was fourth by 400 votes in the election for three council seats.
He acknowledged that was a doubtful outcome.
"If I was truly confident that this council could set aside their emotions, their politics and appoint me, I would ask you to appoint rather than call for a special election," he said.
But if they sought applicants, Barich added, "this appointment should not be about who you want to work with . . . who is like-minded. I think this council should reflect a divided community."
The council was acting not only within its rights but as it was meant to, said one political observer.
"They have wide discretion in what they do, and that's the way in theory it's supposed to be," said Andy Merrifield, a Sonoma State University political scientist.
Council members are entitled to see their responsibility as acting in the city's best interests, even if that diverges from preferences registered by voters at a ballot box, Merrifield said.
"They have every right as trustees of the voters to select the person they think most qualified. You are elected to represent the interests of the community."
Council members said a special election, costing about $25,000, would be unwise.
"At this juncture, I don't believe we can really be looking at $25,000 for an election," Councilwoman Susan Harvey said.
Gilardi, whose resignation is effective Friday, was absent. Applications will be taken from Monday to Feb. 28, and the council must make an appointment by March 26.
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.