December was a divisive month for an already fractured Oceanside city council. Early in the month, councilmember Jerry Kern was victorious in defeating a recall effort.
In that recall election, two of Kern's colleagues, Mayor Jim Wood and councilwoman Esther Sanchez, supported ousting the first-term councilmember. A couple of weeks later, councilmember Rocky Chavez, a Kern supporter, announced his resignation, leaving the Oceanside city council composed of a partisan, four-person council, where Jerry Kern and Jack Feller represent the conservative, pro-development side, and Sanchez and Wood represent the pro-union, liberal contingent.
At the year's first council meeting on Wednesday, January 6, the four councilmembers deliberated on whether the city should hold a special election in June as a way to fill the vacancy left by Chavez, estimated at costing the city $40,000, or appoint an interim councilmember to fill the open seat until November's election. The debate suggests that the rift between the two sides of the aisle has widened.
It started when councilmember Feller asked his colleagues to make some "concessions" and appoint a person to fill the position. He then gave his list of nominees: Tom Hartley, Colleen O'Harra, Sam Williamson, Larry Hatter, and Terry Johnson.
After Feller gave his suggestions, councilmember Sanchez spoke. "I've been on the council with councilmember Feller for nine years and I know what he does. He asks serious questions: 'Will you vote this way?'" Said Sanchez. "We have two people on the council that are extreme right, and I think the mayor and I try to be very much in the middle...and I think that's why, time and again, we end up winning the most votes."
Sanchez then made a motion, which she said seemed an obvious choice, to appoint the runner-up in the last two elections for city council, Chuck Lowery. Mayor Wood seconded the motion.
"That was the winner of the losers in those elections," responded Feller on Lowery's nomination. "[He wasn't] successful. We are talking about successful people."
Sanchez' motion went to a vote and was defeated in a two-two vote. After the tally, councilmember Kern commented, "The four of us need to think about moving things forward with a compromised candidate. Mr. Lowery is a nice guy. He did not win the last two elections. Mr. Lowery's stance on being anti-veteran, anti-military is going to be real tough for people in this town to accept."
Kern then nominated Sam Williamson. Before the motion was voted on, Sanchez responded to Kern's statement. "It is absolutely outrageous that Mr. Kern can defame someone who is not even present to defend himself. This goes along with the bad faith that [Kern] has exhibited from day one. I think it is outrageous to say lies like that from the dais."
Kern's motion was defeated in another two-two vote. The council finally agreed to disagree when they voted to hold a special election on June 8, 2010.