The Bell Gardens City Council voted unanimously to appoint an interim council member to fill former Mayor Alejandra Cortez’s vacant seat.
Cortez abruptly resigned earlier this month citing personal and professional commitments.
“It is with a heavy heart that I announce my resignation from the Bell Gardens City Council,” Cortez said in a statement delivered to her council colleagues and posted to her Facebook page on July 3. An official statement from the city confirmed Cortez’s immediate resignation the same day.
“Time has come for me to transition and focus on my family and my career,” Cortez’s statement reads.
An application process to select an interim councilmember is expected to begin soon. The appointee will hold office until the next general municipal election which is scheduled for Nov. 5, 2024. A special election will then be held to serve the remainder of Cortez’s term which expires in November 2026.
The City Council was also presented with the more costly option of leaving the seat vacant until March 2024 at which point a special election would be held. The appointment option will cost the city $113,000, according to the staff report, while a special election on March 5 would cost $771,000.
The staff report explains that the price jump is due to the fact that a special election in March would be a stand alone election for Bell Gardens while a special election in November would be conducted along side a regular election for two council seats whose terms are set to expire in November.
Councilmember Marco Barcena, who motioned in favor of the appointment option, previously signaled support for appointing a replacement to Cortez’s seat, avoiding an expensive stand alone election.
“I would be interested in looking at applicants to be appointed before considering a costly special election,” Barcena said shortly after news of Cortez’s resignation.
Those interested in being appointed must file a letter of interest and application with the City Clerk’s office by Aug. 9 at 5 p.m. Council may then consider and vote on an appointment at the following regular meeting on Aug. 14. Appointment to the council will be conducted in open session and members of the public wishing to comment on the appointment will be allowed time to speak either in person or call in.
Requirements to be appointed include being a resident of Bell Gardens, a US citizen, and a registered voter.
In accordance with state law, Bell Gardens must either fill Cortez’s vacancy by appointment or call a special election by Sept. 1.
Council also voted on Monday to reorganize the dais, selecting former Mayor Pro Tem Francis De Leon Sanchez to replace Cortez as mayor and selecting Councilmember Jorgel Chavez to serve as Mayor Pro Tem.
Bell Gardens has a rotating mayor whereby councilmembers are selected by their colleagues to serve in the roles of mayor and mayor pro tem for one year. Along with certain ceremonial duties, the Mayor is responsible for conducting city council meetings.