Filling LaMotte Seat by Election or Appointment? Board is Decider
Jamie Alter Lynton | December 9, 2013
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If history is any guide, a school board election is in the offing.
As officials at the LA Unified school board scramble to work out options with the city and county on how best to fill the school board seat left vacant last week by the sudden death of longtime member Marguerite LaMotte, they are weighing elements of timing, tradition and of course, politics.
The law relating to vacancies on the school board, written into the LA City Charter, clearly lays out two options for the school board: appoint a replacement or call a special election.
And while appointing someone may seem simpler, cheaper and faster, doing so has big liabilities.
For one, it’s dangerous politically. The seat for school board district 1, which encompasses a wide swath of south LA, extending from Hancock Park to Gardena, has been held continuously by a black woman since 1979. That was the first year board members were no longer elected at-large, a change brought about in part because the black community argued it was under-represented electorally. So having the school board hand-pick an appointee raises red flags in the black community, which is already voicing concerns.
For another, there’s a long tradition of vacancies being filled by election, not appointment. City council seats — which are frequently vacated by members seeking higher office — have uniformly been filled by special election. The last long term appointment was in 1966.
But calling a special election takes consensus, too. The last time a special election was called by the school board was when Jose Huizer vacated his seat after being elected to city council in 2005.
That year, the school board fast-tracked a special election in late November by giving notice and approving a motion (seconded by LaMotte) to hold a stand-alone primary the following March and consolidating with a statewide election for a run-off in June 2006.
City Council quickly approved, setting the election into motion. Monica Garcia won that seat, which she still holds.
But a March/June timeline in this case would require swift action by a school board already hobbled by divisiveness. A board meeting scheduled for tomorrow was pushed back a week because of LaMotte’s death, leaving little time for coordinating an election with city council before the new year.
Another scenario would be to call for the primary to take place on June 3, 2014, the same day as a statewide primary, while pushing the runoff to a later, stand-alone election. This would also give prospective candidates notice in case they need to move into the district to meet the City Charter’s residency requirements of 30 days.