The Reno City Council voted 5-1 Wednesday to use an appointment process, rather than an election, to fill a vacancy on the seven-member panel. The decision kickstarts a one-week application process for potential candidates beginning Friday and closing on Feb. 1.
The vacancy was created Jan. 21 when Councilman David Bobzien left to lead Gov. Steve Sisolak’s energy office. In the case of a vacancy, the Reno City Charter directs the council to appoint a new member or pass a resolution calling for a special election. It also requires an appointment to be made within 30 days of the vacancy. The council will pick a finalist on Feb. 15.
After hearing what an election entailed, the council opted to go the appointment route.
Some council members had concerns that an election would be costly.
Washoe County Registrar Deanna Spikula said in an email that although the costs of a special election could vary, she estimated that a full election with early voting would run at about $300,000 to $350,000. An all mail-in election could cost between $175,000 to $200,000.
Others, including Councilwoman Neoma Jardon, were concerned that an election, which Spikula estimated could take three to four months, would leave open a vacancy for too long. She cited the Wednesday meeting as an example of why the seat should be filled quickly. Bobzien’s seat was vacant and Mayor Hillary Schieve was absent to attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“We almost don’t have a quorum,” she said. “I worry about those sorts of situations.”
The mayor, who joined via phone for discussion about how to fill the vacancy, also said she favored an appointment instead of an election, citing costs. Because Bobzien only had two more years to serve in his term, any appointed council member would have to run for the seat in 2020, giving voters an opportunity to weigh in on whether to keep the appointee, Schieve argued.
“There’s sort of that balance there,” she said.
Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus, the sole vote against an appointment, argued for an all-mail election, which is allowed under Nevada’s election laws and would include all Reno voters.
Although most council members are elected by the voters in their ward, a contest for the vacant seat would be the subject of a citywide vote because Bobzien vacated the council’s sole at-large seat, which represents the whole city. The position will be phased out in 2024, when the council creates a sixth ward.
“There are hard decisions to be made [with] a growing community,” Brekhus said of the vacancy. “I think this position is one that needs to get battle-tested out there with the voters.”
Brekhus added that mail-in elections could benefit the city and the state, providing an alternative model that might boost voter participation. Colorado, Oregon and Washington all conduct mail-in only elections, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. These types of elections are less costly and have been shown to increase turnout for voters who tend to cast ballots infrequently.
But the council opted to stay the course, using a similar method it had used when it had a council vacancy in 2014, which was filled by Bobzien.
The application process will begin on Friday. Interested applicants will have until Feb. 1 to apply online or with the City Clerk. On Feb. 13, the council will winnow down the applicant pool to five finalists. Depending on how many applicants apply, each council member will be allowed to nominate three to five applicants as finalists. The City Clerk will then tally those nominations and the five candidates who receive the most nominations will advance as finalists.
The city plans to host a public meet and greet with the finalists on Feb. 14. City staff said the purpose of this meeting was to allow the public to offer input to the council before its final vote.
One day later, the council will interview the candidates and select one to fill the vacancy.