By LIZ BUTTON
Beginning Jan. 1, the newly elected City Council will have two vacancies to fill on the seven-member board and Rye mayor-elect Joe Sack has vowed to manage the appointment process a bit differently than the one that led to Councilwoman Julie Killian’s selection last June.
With less than two weeks to go before the council is officially permitted to vote on a candidate, the rumor mill is churning with potential names to fill the open slots.
Topping the list of candidates is electrical inspector for the City of White Plains and Republican district leader Richard Mecca, who is rumored to be the party’s supported choice for one of the two seats, according to sources within Republican circles.
Real estate agent Jason Mehler recently forwarded his name for consideration to Sack after losing out on a bid for a City Council seat in this year’s election. Mehler, a registered independent, was also bypassed during last year’s appointment process that saw Julie Killian, a Republican, appointed to the City Council.
Republican Councilman Peter Jovanovich’s name was raised by a Republican district leader for consideration. However, the idea received little support from party members, according to Republican sources. After facing defeat against Sack in an independent run for mayor, Jovanovich’s term expires at the end of the year.
District leader Jonathan Peters said he put Jovanovich’s name forth as a possible council candidate at a recent meeting of Republican committee district leaders for reasons of continuity and experience. Many names were discussed at the exclusive gathering, which was held to solicit suggestions for council appointees, Peters said.
“Peter [Jovanovich] is smart; he understands finance. And as a third-party candidate, he garnered a great deal of support. It should not be ignored that, I believe, with one exception, every past [Rye] mayor or council person, regardless of party affiliation, who endorsed a candidate [in this mayoral election] endorsed Peter as a candidate,” he said.
Sack, a Republican, must appoint, and a majority of the council must approve, replacements in January to his council seat and that of Councilwoman County Legislator-elect Catherine Parker, a Democrat who will replace Judy Myers.
The incoming mayor said he wants a fresh start for the new council, which he called “a smart, good-natured and collaborative group.” The reconstituted council will consist of Sack in the mayor’s seat as well as his Rye United ticket mates Republican Terry McCartney, Democrat Kirstin Bucci and the re-elected Killian, a Republican. They will join sitting Republican Councilwoman Laura Brett, who has been on the council since 2011 and has two years left to her term, as the core of the new City Council.
According to the city charter, if a vacancy occurs in the office of mayor or councilperson, those council members still remaining in office will, by majority vote, appoint someone to fill that vacancy for the balance of the unexpired term.
In this case, Parker and Sack, both of whom were first elected in 2007 and then re-elected in 2011, have the same amount of time left on their terms, two years.
Meanwhile, Mecca considered to be the preferred choice, is also a member of the Rye Flood Mitigation Committee and captain of the Rye Fire Patrol.
Outgoing Republican Mayor Doug French said that he had heard the rumors about Mecca’s appointment being “a done deal.”
If, in fact, that recent meeting of Republican committee district leaders, which was not open to the public, was where Mecca’s name first came up, French said, the public needs to be aware of who the district leaders are who are making these determinations.
“What we are hearing now are a lot of rumors and speculation,” French said, “[Sack] should be standing in front of the public…We should not be having a situation where the most important city positions are selected in a backroom private process.”
French, who announced this spring he would not seek a second term in office after being elected in 2009, said he asked Sack in November for a sense of his process for soliciting potential council appointees, but Sack refused to elaborate other than to say those interested were welcome to contact him.
In February 2012, French was tasked with appointing a replacement to fill the seat of former City Councilwoman Suzanna Keith, a Republican and 2009 French running mate who relinquished her seat to move to Texas with her family.
That process, French said, laid out a program that gave people a three-month window in which to throw their hats in the ring.
Killian was chosen by the mayor and appointed by majority vote at the council’s June 13, 2012 meeting, with the exception of Parker, who abstained.
Killian was required to run in a special election that November, winning in an uncontested vote and securing the final year of Keith’s term. The two council members appointed in January must also take part in a special election in November if they want to maintain their seats.
At the time, there was some criticism within the community that the choice to appoint Killian had been long pre-determined by the mayor. Sack said his own appointment process would be different.
“It is kind of a farce that there was this quote unquote ‘process’ that was meant to be open and honest when many people thought that it was pre-determined,” Sack said. The method French used to fill Keith’s seat left much to be desired, Sack said. It was a failure except for the fact that it resulted in the addition of a good council member in Killian.
“What I am not going to do, which is basically what [French] did, is turn this into a ‘Hunger Games’-style public elimination spectacle,” he said.“That’s not what the charter calls for and it’s also not respectful of people who are considering throwing their hat in the ring,” especially since there are no doubt more qualified people than open seats, he said.
However, now that Mecca’s name has been leaked, French said it looks as if Sack’s process, at least according to what Sack has described publicly so far, resembles exactly the pre-determined, closed-door process his own was rumored to be.
“This is the ultimate in public service: standing before the public and asking for their support. Not going to Joe Sack and having a private conversation. That’s not how it works,” French said.
Throughout his six years on the council, Sack said, he has already had a chance to accrue his own list of potential candidates.
“I have had contact with dozens of people who are almost self-selected just by virtue of their involvement and time commitment to city issues, so there is already a pool of potential people, whether they are interested or not,” he said. The question, he said, is who has the time, the energy and the desire to take on the role.
When Councilwoman Killian herself compares the process by which she was appointed to Sack’s, she said that both processes have the potential to work well.
“Joe has not laid out exactly what is going to happen in the process and I’m sure that he will, and I’m sure that the public will have plenty of time to look at these candidates and vet them as people were vetted when they ran,” she said.
Mecca could not be reached for comment as of press time.