Rancho Cucamonga voters, not City Council, will fill Sam Spagnolo’s seat – San Bernardino Sun

Rancho Cucamonga is short one City Council member after the death at age 80 of Sam Spagnolo. He left us May 2, but his term continues until November 2024.

There’ll be a special election in November to fill the seat for the next two years. But what about the five months before then?

I decided to attend Wednesday’s council meeting, where discussion of the vacancy was on the agenda, to find out.

There was competition for my attention. San Bernardino’s reliably entertaining council would talk about Mayor John Valdivia’s proposal to demolish the former Carousel Mall, the site of continual break-ins, vandalism and a recent three-alarm fire. (Ultimately they said no, which may be more a reflection on the messenger than the message.)

But as we’re down a reporter in Rancho Cucamonga, and this might be a rare newsy meeting from the Inland Empire’s sixth-largest, and perhaps most placid, city, I decided to attend.

People head toward the Rancho Cucamonga Council Chambers on Wednesday evening. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

I was hardly disappointed. As I chatted with the city clerk before the meeting started, an angry man strode over, phone in video mode, to ask her on camera the burning question of who controls the microphone at the public lectern.

He’d been cut off at the last meeting and wanted to blame someone. He was so graceless, I laughed in disbelief.

“Is something funny?” he fumed.

Well, yeah.

Minutes later, during the meeting’s public comment period, the man complained about having been cut off last time “hurriedly, rudely and completely unnecessarily.” After a variety of gratuitous insults, he stormed out, not pausing to hear the city attorney explain that he’s the one who’d ordered the mic muted briefly because of the man’s “abuse.”

(Speaking of the city attorney, it’s now Nick Ghirelli. He replaced Jim Markman, who was hired in 1985 and retired in December 2021. My fedora is off to you, Jim.)

More calmly, several residents near 19th Street and Hermosa Avenue objected to a proposal to remove a crosswalk at Mignonette Street that leads to a park and an elementary school. (Side note: Whenever I pass the street sign for Mignonette, I picture a tiny, but adorable, filet mignon.)

City Manager John Gillison said that while crossings are “extraordinarily low,” an engineer would be hired to count traffic this fall and take a fresh look. “The crosswalk will stay for the time being,” Gillison said.

My advice to residents would be to walk your children to school or the park multiple times a day in September to game the numbers.

I bring up the crosswalk for a couple of reasons. One was the small-town charm of residents beginning their comments by stating how long they’d lived in the city: 42 years, 32 years, 41 years, 52 years. Putting a new spin on it, one speaker said: “I have worked in the insurance industry for 38 years.”

Another was that the crosswalk is in District 1, which was Spagnolo’s. One man said he was sure Spagnolo would have visited the site himself and wondered if any of the other council members was familiar with the crosswalk. “We aren’t represented,” the man lamented.

Gillison clarified that. Mayor Dennis Michael, while representing the entire city, lives in District 1, Gillison said, and thus, “we actually do have a representative for every district in the city.” The mayor, in fact, has lived his entire life in what is now District 1.

As for filling Spagnolo’s seat, council members decided to wait it out until the Nov. 8 election rather than seek applicants and appoint someone.

“Because five months is a reasonably short period of time,” Ryan Hutchison said, “I’m inclined to leave the seat vacant and let voters decide.”

Part of his thinking was that Spagnolo was proud to have been backed by voters in five straight elections. Spagnolo, Hutchison said, might “like that to happen for the next person.”

Kristine Scott and Lynne Kennedy agreed with him. Michael did too, saying a vacant seat would make the election “a clean slate.” Leaving the seat empty and scheduling an election for Nov. 8 for the last two years of Spagnolo’s term was approved 4-0.

Afterward, Michael elaborated. The council had made appointments in the past and been criticized for it. (As I recall, at least one appointee later put up campaign signs for “re-election” — despite never having been elected.)

“It’s the right thing to do to make sure there’s a fair election and no one has an advantage,” Michael told me.

About Spagnolo, Michael got a little emotional as we spoke. Spagnolo last attended a meeting on April 6 but his participation the previous few months had been sporadic due to declining health.

“He was so dedicated, he thought he would get through this,” the mayor said. He described Spagnolo, a former Fire Department colleague even before their joint council service, as “very compassionate, very thoughtful, a very strong supporter of staff and for doing the right thing,” as well as “an incredibly loyal man.”

Speaking of the election, Hutchison, Scott and Michael’s terms are up. Michael, first elected in 2004, and mayor since 2010, shared that he’s ready to run again.

“I’m in it for one more term,” said Michael, 74, listing projects he’d like to see through. Also, he said, “this council is working very well together,” with no “outlier” member as in many cities.

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