Council to Discuss Replacing the late- Councilman Red Davis

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

August 12, 2021

With the recent death of Morro Bay City Councilman Robert Davis, the focus turns to how the City Council will go about replacing him?

City Manager Scott Collins said a report on the path forward would be given to the City Council at its Tuesday, Aug. 10 meeting. 

Davis was re-elected to a second, 4-year term on council at the November 2020 election, was sworn in last December, and was just 7 months into that term when he died July 24.

According to Collins, the council has several possible paths to take in replacing Davis. The Council can and in all likelihood will appoint someone to fill Davis’ seat. The process is laid out in the City’s Codes.

Municipal Code Section 2.06.030, Paragraph B reads: “The city council shall immediately call a special election to fill any vacant seat on the council, including the mayor’s seat. The special election shall be held on the next established election date, as specified in California Elections Code, which is not less than one hundred fourteen days from the call of the special election. The city council may appoint an elector who is a registered voter in the city of Morro Bay to fill such vacancy prior to the special election. The appointee shall hold office only until the date of said special election.

Collins said the special election would be held in April 2022 and since Davis died in office and didn’t leave office mid-term in order to run for higher office, the City will be paying for it. 

The ordinance does allow it to be a mail-in vote held according to the State’s rules on mail-in balloting.

Collins said whoever wins in that special election, which would be open to any registered voter in Morro Bay, would not have to run again in November 2022.

If the appointed person wins election, he or she would have to stand election again in November 2024 under the normal schedule for City Council termsk. Every two years Morro Bay voters elect a Mayor and two council people. 

Coincidentally, the County Board of Supervisors is in a similar situation after the suicide death of Dist. 3’s Adam Hill, who won his third term in the March 2020 Primary but committed suicide.

Dawn Ortiz-Legg was appointed by the Governor to fill his seat. And Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong, who resigned last month will be replaced by the Board of Supervisors. Both of these positions will have to stand election next year.

If the Morro Bay Council decides to take applications, it would name a replacement soon after that, most likely in September.

Davis is the first City Council person to die while in office in the town’s history; though there have been numerous instances over the years where a council person has left office early — for various reasons from recall to resignation to expulsion — the most recent cases were in 2004 when Janice Peters won the mayor’s seat over incumbent Bill Yates, and the Council named Planning Commissioner, Thad Baxley, to serve out her term. Baxley ran for election 2-years later but lost.

And in 1996, then-Councilwoman Cathy Novak was elected Mayor in mid-term and the council named Peters to fill her seat.

Between service on the TV Franchise Board (1989-90), Planning Commission (1990-96), the Council (1996-04), and three terms as Mayor (2004-10), Peters served for 21 years.

In both of these instances, the third-place finishers in the council election that year were considered for the vacant seat — indeed, citizens turned out en masse to lobby for them — but were passed over.

The other candidates in the November 2020 Election were former Councilwoman Betty Winholtz and Richard Sadowski. Laurel Barton won the second Council seat at the November 2020 Election.

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