Guest Column by Nick Bulaich to "The Watsonville Fishing Report"
The City of Watsonville wants you to believe a "vacancy" can be "occupied." I know, you think this is an April Fool's joke, but this really happened.
When motel operators light up their "vacancy" sign out front, it is to inform the public that there is an empty room available for the night. We all know the word "vacancy" means something is "empty" or "unoccupied", but watch out if someone gives some attorneys enough money to make an argument that a commonly understood word can have a totally different definition.
Back in 2010, Councilman Luis Alejo submitted a letter to the City stating his intention to resign from the City Council. Rather than actually vacate his seat, Alejo stated his resignation would only become effective at the same time of the appointment of his replacement. Using such logic meant that the seat was never really empty.
Before the City Council voted for Alejo's replacement, Councilman Emilio Martinez, Kathleen Morgan Martinez, and Ken Adelman filed a lawsuit in an attempt to stop this crazy idea of a resigning council member being allowed to vote for his own replacement before the seat is empty.
For unexplained reasons, the City hired an expensive out-of-town law firm to defend their shaky case. The pricey law firm basically threw the City Attorney's legal argument out the window in order to push a new theory in which they claimed the "vacancy" occurred on the day that Alejo submitted his resignation letter to the City. This argument means Alejo's Council seat could be "vacant" and "occupied" at the same time. I'm not kidding.
Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge Tim Volkmann ruled in the City's favor by essentially saying if a councilman states his resignation becomes effective at the same time his replacement is picked, then a resigning councilman can vote for his own replacement for a seat that is not empty. Now we have a judge saying there can be an "occupied vacancy."
Then things got weirder. After the City got a judge to support their "occupied vacancy" argument, the City Attorney basically went back to saying a vacancy does not happen until the replacement is picked. Is Judge Volkmann aware of this flip-flopping by the City?
The City's law firm essentially claimed that the majority Council can do what they want for "vacancies." This means if one council member who is not kissing up to the majority bloc decides to resign, he might be denied the chance to vote for his replacement if the majority votes against it. So this new "occupied vacancy" rule only applies to preferred council members.
Just recently, Councilman Manuel Bersamin announced his intention to resign from the City Council and he used the same absurd wording in his resignation letter as used by Alejo. Once again we saw a council member saying he will only give up his seat at the exact same moment his replacement is selected, and once again the City Attorney gave a different opinion on when the "vacancy" occurred. What is going on in this City?