By approving a formal interview process to appoint a new council member, the city opens the door to a host of qualified candidates and eliminates the perception that most members sought to place a political ally in late Councilman Sam Cuellar’s vacant seat.
It might make sense on the surface to appoint Buehner to the position, because he was the first runner-up in the recent election, but the logic for that decision quickly breaks down when one considers Cuellar’s support network. Many people who voted for Cuellar in November — giving him the most votes of any council candidate — have made it clear that Buehner would not be their first choice. If the council is truly to be the “voice of the people,” it must represent the views of the entire electorate, including those supporters.
In truth, the late councilman is irreplaceable, as his years of community service and experience in Patterson are unmatched. Yet it would be ideal to find someone who shares some of Cuellar’s qualities, such as his ear to the needs of the poor and his cautious attitude toward growth.
The council also should seriously weigh Buehner’s local land holdings, if they consider appointing him to the post. While the last council was responsible for approving the city’s General Plan, the present council will be responsible for implementing it. Buehner is involved with some building projects that are slated for council consideration in the next few years. Many will likely have questions about whether he has undue influence on the council, even if he recuses himself from deciding on those matters, as required by law.
Buehner has a good deal of business experience, and his focus during his campaign on public safety and city budget issues is laudable, yet he would likely emerge as a lightning rod if appointed to the council. Community suspicions about political alliances between Buehner and council members Annette Smith, Deborah Novelli and Dominic Farinha would send the city further down the same bumpy road it has traveled during the past two years.
The past council might have had some major accomplishments under its belt, but everyone admits it would have been more productive had council members not been so polarized regarding the relocation of the Del Puerto Health Center.
Inasmuch as possible, it’s wise to prevent unproductive political squabbling that has hindered city leaders in the past. That’s not to say council members should always agree; they will not, and they should not. But they should be willing to work together to promote the well-being of the city and to adequately represent its varied constituents.
It is our hope that the members of the council will consider the needs of all Patterson residents as they seek to fill the empty seat at the dais. We wish them all the best in their quest to find the best candidate, in light of the major choices and challenges that lie ahead.