While his chair sat empty on the dais, the Calimesa City Council discussed Monday night how to fill the seat left vacant with the unexpected passing of longtime Councilman Jim Hyatt.
“I, for one, would like to look at bringing in the next candidate, the only other one who was looking for a position on the council,” Mayor Bill Davis said, referring to Jeff Cervantez who ran for one of two at-large council seats in the November 2018 election, only to come up 16 votes short of Hyatt, who was the second highest vote-getter to Larry Smith.
“Much to our surprise, he was very close to Jim at the end. I would like to go that way and just get it done. I don’t know how you guys feel,” Davis said before opening up the item for discussion.
Hyatt, who helped the city incorporate in 1990 and was among its first councilmembers, was serving his fourth-straight term on the city council when he passed away Saturday, April 27. Hyatt was 75.
Davis opened the May 6 session with a moment of silence for Hyatt. He then called on Brenda Hyatt, who wanted to say a few words about her husband.
“It’s a shock that Jim is gone. He is such a presence,” she said. “Jim loved the city of Calimesa. After his family, the people of Calimesa were always uppermost in his mind.”
“Me and Jim,” Davis said, “we didn’t agree on a lot of things. We did discuss. We didn’t argue. But the one thing we had in common is we cared a lot about this city.”
Brenda Hyatt asked the council to consider flying the city’s flags at half-staff through a Celebration of Life for her husband on May 18. The memorial is open to the public and will begin at 11 a.m. at the Norton Younglove Senior Center, a place the Hyatts frequented. Staff agreed to look into the appropriate protocol after direction from council.
Discussion on how to fill Hyatt’s seat resumed, with Mayor Davis, Mayor Pro Tem Linda Molina and Councilman Ed Clark voting in favor of Cervantez’s appointment, while Councilman Smith preferred an application process.
Staff was directed to put together a resolution for Cervantez’s appointment that will be voted on at the next council meeting, Monday, May 20, well within the 60-day time frame the city council has to fill the vacancy.
“It seems that option one is the most logical,” Molina said about appointing someone for the remainder of the first half of Hyatt’s four-year term rather than holding a special election, the other option.
Deputy City Manager and City Clerk Darlene Gerdes, who serves as Calimesa’s election official, said a special election would cost between $8,000 to $10,000 and would fill the council vacancy for the remainder of the term until 2022.
“I think the consensus is we want to appoint,” Smith said. “The next question is how do we go about doing that.”
Smith voiced concern about if Cervantez, a professor at Crafton Hills College, was appointed to council it would create a vacancy on the planning commission, on which he has served since Davis selected him following his election loss.
“I have no opposition to Mr. Cervantez … I, for one, am always wanting to find other opportunities to engage the community,” Smith said about preferring an application process for the appointment.
“The only problem is the interview process, the length of time, the amount of meetings that have to be had before we actually make a vote,” Davis said, arguing his point.
“The fact that, like you, he has served on the planning commission for a short time, you get a feeling for what is going on in the city and what is being done and how to handle it,” Davis said about Cervantez. “I think that helped me a lot when I transitioned over to council.”
“If we offer Mr. Cervantez the position and he declines it, we have to go to an interview session as well,” Molina said. “Either way we are covered and that gives people the opportunity.”
Davis had anticipated that possibility and taken matters into his own hands.
“I already discussed the matter with Jeff,” he said. “I called him over the weekend and he is agreeable. He would like to do it.”
“Wonderful, wonderful,” Molina said in response.
Davis did think Smith had a valid point about engaging the community, but it was outweighed by urgency.
“I agree with you too, as far as giving an opportunity,” he said. “But this will only be for a year and a half. It will take the opening out. It’s critical right now to get people moving into that position.”