Praises the candidate, claims he’s “been consistent”
“…Los Banos does not have an established procedure for filling a City Council/Elected Mayor vacancy.” – Oct. 5th council meeting city staff report
In a post on his Facebook page on Tuesday, Oct. 11th, Los Banos District 2 Councilman Refugio LLamas defended his decision to not appoint the sole mayoral candidate Paul Llanez as mayor or even hold an appointment process in which others could have applied during the council meeting on Oct. 5 claiming his “position has been consistent”. However, as previously reported, Llanez claims LLamas told him he supported appointing him to the vacancy in the mayor’s position “as soon as possible” following the resignation of former Mayor Tom Faria on Sept. 16.
On Thursday, October 13th, Llanez shared a text message from LLamas sent on Sept. 17 in which the District 2 councilman wrote, “Mr. Llanez, Good morning. I believe congratulations are in order. I look forward to you being seated at the earliest opportunity. There is much to be done and the sooner we get the next stage the better. R/S Llamas”
Also as previously reported, LLamas told this reporter something similar that same morning saying, “The sooner we can get Mr. Llanez seated the better. Citizens deserve to know the council is working on their behalf and their government is operating. The sooner we can get to the next stage the better for all. We need someone there, right away. Any pressing issues like public safety, fire, water, these are all long-term issues which must be addressed in order to ensure the well-being of our citizens.”. (See related articles here and here)
LLamas later backpedaled in a text message to this reporter on Sept. 30th writing, “The democratic process should not be undermined for the sake of expediency.”
According to both the notice sent out and posted on the city’s website and Facebook page by City Clerk Lucy Mallonee on Friday, Sept. 30th entitled, “Vacancy of the Office of the Mayor” as well as the meeting agenda, the council was prepared to allow anyone who wished to apply for the appointment to speak for five minutes during the Oct. 5th council meeting
The notice read, “PLEASE TAKE NOTICEthat at its Regular Meeting of October 5, 2022 at 6:00 p.m. at the City Council Chambersat 520 J Street in Los Banos, the City Council of the City of Los Banos will consider filling the vacancy of the office of Mayor. All persons interested in being considered to fill the vacancy of the office of Mayor are invited to attend and make a five (5) minute statement/presentation to the City Council as to why they should be considered to fill the vacancy for the former Mayor’s unexpired term (expected to expire upon certification of November 8, 2022 General Election results).Notice-of-Mayor-Vacancy-10.5.2022
The City Council may appoint any qualified person who is at least eighteen (18) years of age, a resident of Los Banos, and a registered voter.”
LLamas Defends Decision to Not Support Appointment Process
Yet, in his Oct. 11th Facebook post LLamas wrote, “My position has been consistent. Mr. Llanez brings a wealth of knowledge and experience which is needed on the City Council. His past service as a police office as well as his extremely successful private business brings executive level experience which is lacking in some of our current Council members. However, we can not change the rules just because one council member says we should. We have an established procedure for filling vacancies on the council. Reference agenda items:
#13 on the 12/16/2022 agenda
#14 on the 01/01/2022 agenda
# 6 on the 01/14/2021 agenda
# 5 on the 01/20/2021 agenda
This was not about the candidates, this was about process and a council member who does not believe in openness, consistency and transparency.
No attempt at honest discourse is allowed. I believe we must continue to have independence of thought on our council, and we must uphold our oath of office when making decisions. I will not Discard our Democratic principles for the sake of expediency.
When we as a society accept the bending of the rules, we do so at the risk of undermining our societal values and our respect for the rule of law. In this case, established precedence.”
City Staff Report Refutes Refugio
However, the staff report for the council meeting agenda Item 9, entitled, “Mayor Vacancy” prepared by Interim City Manager Greg Wellman specifically reads, “There are no State laws or Los Banos Municipal Code provisions establishing specific procedures to make an appointment to fill a City Council vacancy. No formal application process is required, and the City Council may appoint any qualified person who is at least eighteen (18) years of age, and a resident of Los Banos and a registered voter.”LBBCC-Agenda-10.5.22-Item-9-Mayor-Vacancy
In addition, the staff report reads, “Some jurisdictions have adopted ordinances, resolutions or policies, setting out the procedure for filling a City Council vacancy. The City of Los Banos does not have an established procedure for filling a City Council/Elected Mayor vacancy.
There is no legal requirement that the City Council use any particular method of appointment. It is common in such situations for the City Council to notice the vacancy and invite applications. If the City Council interviews, it must be done at a public meeting, although the meeting can be held at any time. The appointment must be made in public. This is not a permitted Closed Session discussion or decision.
In anticipation of this option and the time constraints (thirty four (34) days until the General Election) staff has posted on the City’s website and City’s Facebook pages a notice and invitation to interested persons that the City Council would allow presentations at its October 5, 2022 meeting to present their qualifications to fill the vacancy in the Office of Mayor. A copy of the notice is enclosed with this staff report.”
Questions for LLamas Go Unanswered
The following questions were emailed to Councilman LLamas on Thursday morning, Oct. 13:
“How were the rules being changed or bent? How was the rule of law not being followed? What was not open or transparent about the appointment process? What honest discourse wasn’t allowed?
How can you claim you have been consistent? Mr. Llanez claims you told him personally you wanted him on the council as soon as possible. Did you say that to him?
You also later texted this reporter, ‘The council should seek direction from the city attorney and act in accordance with all applicable laws and ordinances in filling the vacancy created by Mr. Faria’s departure.’
How was the process provided by city staff not ‘in accordance with all applicable laws and ordinances in filling the vacancy’?
LLamas was also asked if had read the city staff report on the agenda item before he participated in the council meeting on October 5th. “If so, how can you now claim the rules were being changed or bent when there aren’t any rules, other than the person being appointed must be ‘at least eighteen (18) years of age, a resident of Los Banos, and a registered voter’ as is written in the Notice? Since he’s clearly at least 18 years old, are you claiming Paul Llanez is either not a resident of Los Banos and/or not a registered voter? Wouldn’t the Merced County Elections office have caught that before he was allowed to be a candidate for Mayor of Los Banos on this year’s ballot?”
LLamas did not respond prior to publication time.
Jones Responds to LLamas’ Council & Facebook Comments
Asked about his colleague’s comments which were directed at him, District 3 Councilman Brett Jones responded, “When Refugio was appointed, we had an open seat with no election on the horizon for the next two years. We put out a public notice for appointment position, received multiple applications, held open interviews and then voted on an applicant. This process was discussed and approved by Council at that time for that appointment. There is no written policy or procedure on how to conduct an appointment for a seat on the dais. It’s strictly whatever Council decides is in the best interest of our City at that time. Refugio’s comments during last week’s council meeting was his attempt to compare apples to oranges.”
Council Split Leaves Mayor’s Seat Vacant Until December
The council split 2-2 on holding the appointment process leaving Mayor Pro Tem Ken Lambert to lead the meetings until the new mayor, which is expected to be Llanez as he is the only candidate running for the position in this year’s election and no one has filed to be an official write-in candidate, is seated in December following the certification of the Nov. 8th results.
Please check back later for LLamas’ possible response or any other updates to this report.