Tulare searches for answers after city council election confusion

The city of Tulare, Tulare County looks to Superior Court to get answers after Tulare council members were not put on the November ballot due to California Elections Code oversight

TULARE – After election confusion leaves Tulare residents questioning whether or not two city council members were duly elected, the city and county look to get answers.

Several months after the November 2022 election, the city of Tulare is looking for clarification on a way to ensure both incumbents for the city of Tulare’s District 2 and 4 seats, Terry Sayre and Dennis Mederos were officially elected to council after not appearing on the ballot. Typically under the election code, those running for office who are running unopposed are not put on the ballot. It is assumed the community has “good faith” in the incumbents as no one else is running in the opposition. However, there are special circumstances which require their names to be placed on the ballot regardless.

One of those circumstances is if there is a city wide measure on the ballot and this year Tulare residents voted on Measure Y, the cannabis tax. The Tulare County Registrar of Voters, not the city of Tulare or the candidates, decided to not include either Sayre or Mederos on the November ballot. Deputy city manager Josh McDonnell said the city is working with the county on a “friendly lawsuit.” He said it is not anyone versus anyone, they both just want answers on how to move forward.

“Some folks are raising the [question], ‘were they duly elected?’ and that’s what this friendly litigation is involving” McDonnell said. “The city is asking the Tulare County Superior Court for some form of formal acknowledgement that Terry and Dennis have been duly elected.”

Before the November election Sayre and Mederos filed their re-election paperwork in the proper amount of time. It was then determined both qualified and were both running unopposed. As a result of the two running uncontested they were not put on the ballot. According to a joint press release from the city of Tulare and the Tulare County, it was safe to conclude the two had won their re-election. However, a question was raised to the city whether their names should have been on the ballot regardless of if they were contested or not, because measure Y was also on the ballot.

According to Tulare County Elections Office election program coordinator Maryalice Cypert, the California Elections Code states if any member running for re-election is running unopposed, they are appointed to the position without being placed on the ballot. However, Tulare’s deputy city clerk Melissa Herman noticed a subsection where the election code states, that “shall not apply if, … a city measure has qualified and is to be submitted to the voters at that municipal election.”

This was overlooked by the county as this special circumstance is not something that has happened in the last ten years. In the 2022 election, Woodlake was the only other city in the county who had three open positions and three individuals qualified to run. As a result there was no council election in Woodlake and the three who qualified were appointed to their positions, according to Cypert. However there was no conflict in Woodlake because there was not a measure on the ballot.

“​​I’ve been here since 2008 and we’ve never had that issue,” Cypert said.

In order to establish certainty that Sayre and Mederos were duly elected, the city of Tulare requested confirmation from the Tulare County  Superior Court. This will clarify that the two are entitled to hold their seats for their standard four-year term as if their names had been placed on the ballot. According to McDonnell, this will allow the city and county to receive answers, and will hopefully prevent the city from having to hold a special election.

“So we really, really, really don’t want to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers money to do some type of special election,” McDonnell said. “Because the only people that could run would be the people that had qualified, and those people were Dennis and Terry.”

All members of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors and Tulare City Council are aware of this matter and are eager for its resolution according to the joint press release. All parties involved want certainty to be provided to the city of Tulare’s voters.

At the same time this issue is being resolved, the city of Tulare has a portion of its city charter stating a council person holds their seat “until his/her successor is elected and qualified.” In this case, both Sayre and Mederos will remain seated as full members of the Tulare City Council because they are their own successors.

“It is very technical [and] we’re trying to figure out how to give absolute certainty and clarity that they are the appropriate elected individuals for that office,” McDonnell said.

In their joint press release, both the county of Tulare and the city of Tulare stated whether through Tulare County Superior Court or an alternate venue, they are committed to finding a mutually agreeable solution. One that ensures both councilmembers are seated in a manner clearly reflecting the fact that both individuals ran in unopposed elections.

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