The Santa Rosa City Council will face many challenges this year — budget difficulties, infrastructure demands and more long-term debt issues, many of them related to meeting retirement obligations. But no decision this year may be more important than the one the City Council made this evening in appointing someone to serve the remaining two years in the term of <NO1><NO>Susan Gorin.

<CS8.7>This afternoon and into this evening, all 17 people who applied for the position paraded before the council in 15-minute intervals. The march included long- and short-time residents, business owners, neighborhood activists, political newcomers and those with a long track record of government experience. It's clear each would have brought a unique balance of life and practical experience to the job.

</CS>We wish the community had more time to meet and hear from them all, particularly those who are relatively new to the political scene. As we noted in our Saturday editorial, we are frustrated with the city's inexplicable haste in filling this position. The names and applications had been known publicly just three business days before the interviews took place.

And in keeping with its rush, the council went ahead and voted tonight, picking Robin Swinth on four ballots. In the process, it perpetuated another unfortunate practice — of having a City Council dominated by eastside residents.

Let's be clear. We have no doubt that Swinth, 45, a Santa Rosa native, will be a fine addition to the council given her broad experience on the Planning Commission and, more recently, her experience on the Board of Public Utilities. She demonstrates a strong command of the city's challenges and has shown she would approach them with the eye of a fiscal conservative and engineer — a former Agilent employee — and with the heart of an environmentalist.

But, as we have stated previously, we believe this opening provided a rare opportunity for the City Council to appoint a westside resident, which, as the recent debate over district elections underscored, has been woefully under-represented.

Based on our own interviews with many of the candidates, as well as our evaluations of all the applicants, their packets and their interviews before the City Council on Monday, we believed the City Council had a number of excellent westside applicants from which to choose, the top being Curtis Byrd, David Rosas and Don Taylor.

Byrd, 57, a member of the Planning Commission, has deep roots in the community as the grandson of activists Alice and Gilbert Gray, founders of the local NAACP branch. His track record suggests his only committed ideology is doing what's in the best interests of the city.

The same can be said of Rosas, 50, president of the Roseland School Board and a director of the Santa Rosa Community Health Center. <NO1><NO>The only southwest area resident in the applicant pool, Rosas has been a loyal advocate for his area, having campaigned for zoning changes to the Roseland Shopping Center, annexation of the Roseland area and, more recently, for a successful bond measure for the Roseland school district. He would have provided a needed voice on the council for Southwest Santa Rosa and for the Latino community.

But in the end, we believe the candidate who deserved the appointment most was Don Taylor. <CS8.7>Taylor, 53, lives on the west side, owns a business west of Highway 101 in Railroad Square area and would have come with a clear-eyed view of the city's most complex issues, having served on the Planning Commission from 1999 to 2003 and on the Community Advisory Board from 2004 to 2008.

<NO1><NO>Not to be overlooked is the fact that Taylor <NO1><NO>finished <NO1><NO>just 3 percentage points behind the top-vote getter in November's council election. </CS>We don't believe the fifth-place finish alone would have been grounds for appointment. However, when added to his other attributes, we believe his demonstrated support moved him to the top of our list of finalists.

As it turned out, the two finalists in the council's balloting were Taylor and Swinth — one from the west side of Highway 101 and one of the east side. And the council did what the city is known for. It looked east.

It was another missed opportunity.