The San Clemente City Council will hold a special meeting early next week to hear from each candidate vying for the open seat on the council, per a unanimous vote on Tuesday night, May 16.
Next Tuesday, May 23, candidates will have three minutes each to make their case in front of the council before the elected officials take a break to use a nomination ranking sheet, with candidates receiving the most votes proceeding.
The council’s budget workshop meeting already scheduled for the same day will be moved up to 1:30 p.m. from 4 p.m. to accommodate the candidate interviews. City officials anticipate the workshop to last two hours at most, giving the councilmembers a 30-minute recess before the interviews.
After councilmembers rank the candidates, they’ll return to the dais to deliberate whether to interview the remaining candidates that night or come back at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 24 to do so.
After voting on May 2 to allow registered San Clemente voters over 18 to apply and placing an advertisement in the San Clemente Times, the city received 23 applications by its May 15 deadline, according to City Clerk Laura Campagnolo.
The list of those who applied to serve out the remainder of former Councilmember Gene James’ term, which expires in December 2024, include past officials Don Brown and Tim Brown, current commission members such as Rick Loeffler and Gary McCaughan, and past campaign candidates such as Donna Vidrine and Zhen Wu.
City staff placed three options in front of the council to narrow down the list. The council chose selecting up to five candidates each, with the candidates who received the highest rankings moving on to the interview round.
The council also could have opted for each councilmember to select their two top choices for a maximum of eight interviews, or having the council vote on each of the 23 candidates, advancing every candidate who received two or more votes to the next stage.
Mayor Pro Tem Steve Knoblock was the first to suggest giving each applicant a platform, stating that the city had received “excellent” applications, and he wanted to know more about the names he hadn’t seen before.
He said he thought it was possible for the applicants to give a brief presentation, the council to pick a top two or three, and conduct interviews all in one night.
“I think we need to give it enough time to make sure we’ve properly interviewed and vetted and seen the candidates, because there are a number of them (who) I don’t know,” said Knoblock.
Councilmember Victor Cabral disagreed, saying he already had an idea of whom he’d choose to move on after only reading the applications.
He added that essentially cramming a year-long political campaign for an open seat into a few minutes wouldn’t provide much more information than what was on the applications. He advocated for spending more time vetting each candidate before his idea was shot down.
The council eventually came to agree on holding a special meeting and paring down the list of applicants to at least five for them to interview. Mayor Chris Duncan added that the ranked-choice system would be the best option, as it would provide a glimpse of which candidates received support from numerous councilmembers.
Cabral also pointed out that sugar-sweet statements from applicants mentioning how much they love the city and not distinguishing themselves would likely not earn them an interview.
“There’s a lot of issues that we’re confronted with, (and) if you don’t tell us what you really think about the issues and just say, ‘I love the beaches …,’ that doesn’t tell me anything,” Cabral said.
For the interview process, the council chose interviewing the final candidates individually over a forum setting, as they felt the latter option also wouldn’t serve well to set each person apart and allow them to express their own thoughts.
The councilmembers will have two questions each to ask the candidates, and candidates will have one minute to answer each question.
When notifying the public of the upcoming special meeting, the information included will be broad, to give the councilmembers flexibility to appoint a new councilmember on the spot if they all have a consensus, to choose to interview candidates that night, or to hold interviews on Wednesday, May 24.
A candidate must have at least three affirmative votes from councilmembers to be appointed.
The council has until June 28, 60 days after James’ resignation, to appoint a new councilmember or call for a special election.
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