The Lodi City Council held a special meeting this morning to discuss option and decide how to fill District 4’s newly vacated seat.
With the removal of Shakir Khan from the Lodi City Council, the Council scheduled a special meeting for 7:00am on March 7th to review options for filling the vacant seat.
City Manager Steve Schwabauer and City Attorney Janice Magdich told the council there are three options they can take for the vacant seat:
- The City Council can publicly interview a candidate from District 4 and appoint them to the Council. This was done back in 1998, and the second place vote getter, Bob Johnson, was selected.
- A Special Election can be implemented, which could cost anywhere from $25,000 – $50,000 (Registrar of Voters estimate), but the election wouldn’t occur until November 14th.
- The Council can do nothing. This was the option they took when Council Member Bob Johnson passed away in early 2020. Since an election was set for later the same year, they felt it was pointless to do anything.
Very few people attended the meeting, with only four citizens making comments. Online comments were disabled. Among the four commenters were citizens from District 4 asking for Ramon Yepez to be placed on the Council. Ramon Yepez was the candidate who took second place in the District 4 elections back in 2020.
Mr. Yepez also showed up to the Special Meeting this morning and made a lengthy speech. He stated that the San Joaquin Sheriff’s Office claimed Shakir Khan should not have been on the ballot, and there might be enough evidence of voter fraud to sway the election. Yepez went on to say The Registrar of Voters Office got it wrong last time and can’t be trusted. The Council should appoint someone, and that is the person who received the most legitimate votes in the last election. Full statement below:
“I don’t want to be here, but I feel I have to be because all the institutions that were supposed to protect us have completely failed us, and I feel I cannot trust them to do the right thing. The Sheriff’s Office have evidence of election fraud, but apparently didn’t know what he was looking at. If they had said something, I would have made sure the election wasn’t certified, and we wouldn’t be in the mess right now. The DA’s office under Tori Salazar had this information and didn’t let us know for whatever reason. Seems to be moving a lot faster with Ron Freitas, but for the past two years, the DA’s office didn’t seem to care about what was happening in this case. I hate to say it, but even this council has let District 4 down. You have an ethical code and say you hold yourself to the highest ethical standards, but you have no way of enforcing your code, so it’s just a bunch of good intentions. The Registrar of Voters Office and the Sheriff’s Office let the former Councilman commit massive fraud and steal this election. The Sheriff said there was no question that what the former Councilman did influenced the outcome of the election. He also said that the former Councilman should never have been on the ballot. Don’t hold a special election, you cannot trust the Voter’s Office to get it right until we can find out happened in the first place. And also, in a special election, we have to wait nine months without representation. And you’re telling the people of District 4 who voted in the last election… you’re telling them that their vote doesn’t matter and they don’t matter. You need to appoint someone who can claim to have the support of District 4. If you appoint somebody who didn’t respect the people enough to make their case in the last election and didn’t even earn one single vote, let alone the most legitimate votes, then you are doing something that is anti-democratic, as the former councilman did. I understand that the election is over and has been certified. But even though it shouldn’t have, I understand that I’m not the first runner-up who automatically gets to fill this seat. I understand that’s not how it works. In a free and fair election, I wouldn’t be here, but the City is making me because election fraud, and what it means is the people in District 4 still haven’t had their voice heard. Again, I understand that I’m not the first runner-up who automatically gets to fill a vacancy. I know that’s not how it works. I know there is a process to be followed. And when considering the appointment you need to let the people of District 4, finally after two years, have a say who’s going to represent them. You can do that by considering who has the claim to support of District 4, and that is the person who got the most legitimate votes in the last election. In a free and fair election, the person with the most votes is the people’s representative. You need to use the same logic when filling this appointment. If you appoint someone who didn’t respect the people enough to make a case to the voters, you’re telling District 4 that your four votes matter more than their hundreds of votes. And what you want is more important than what they want, which is not better than what the Councilman did in the last election. Legally, you can do whatever you want. You don’t have to listen to me, you don’t have to respect the people of District 4, but just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. You should do the right thing. Again, I don’t want to be here at seven in the morning talking about this stuff, but all the institutions failed us, and I feel it’s necessary to be here to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. It shouldn’t be this hard for us to get our representative on the Council. We shouldn’t have to be voting again and again after election after election, and we shouldn’t have a representative forced on us either. I’m asking you to do the right thing and finally after two years let the people of District 4 have their say. Thank you.”Ramon Yepez
Council Member Cameron Bregman wanted to remind everyone that Shakir Khan was removed because he signed his own resignation. However, it should be noted the resignation was signed on a blank piece of paper and was allegedly forced on Mr. Khan by Mayor Mikey Hothi shortly after Khan was arrested and held in a booking lobby. Mr. Khan stated his attorney, Allen Sawyer, will be filing a federal lawsuit against the City for his removal.
Mayor Pro Tempore Lisa Craig stated the reason they accepted Khan’s resignation was because all the City Council Members signed and swore to follow the code of ethics. An abbreviated version is posted on the wall in the same room.
Mayor Pro Tempore Craig then asked about the appointment process from the City Staff. City Manager Steve Schwabauer and City Attorney Janice Magdich explained that the appointment has to be done publicly. Adults who reside in District 4 can apply to be interviewed by the City Council during another public Council meeting. The entire process can be done in at least 4-6 weeks, but could take longer if needed. The staff has to create an agenda, an application, and they want about two weeks to wait for candidates to respond.
In fact, the Lodi Unified School District recently accomplished the appointment process when they replaced Ron Freitas on the Board of Trustees. Ron Freitas is the new District Attorney of San Joaquin County, and has expedited the case against Khan. However, the City Attorney noted that the time has passed for the Registrar of Voters to bring any action on election fraud. The statue of limitations is two years, and the elections were in 2020.
Mayor Mikey Hothi stated he would like to see an appointment process, just as the Lodi Unified School District recently did with new District Attorney Ron Freitas’ successor. All four candidates answered questions, then there was a public comment period, and then a vote was made by the Board of Trustees.
Council Member Nakanishi said he could go either way. Mayor Pro Tempore Craig made a motion to adopt the appointment process. Council Member Nakanishi then seconded the appointment process, triggering a vote. Mayor Hothi, Mayor Pro Tempore Craig, and Council Member Nakanishi voted yes. Council Member Bregman abstained. Council Member Nakanishi then said he thought it was yes or no vote only. The City Staff clarified that under the Lodi Municipal Code, an abstention is counted as a yes, absent a financial conflict of interest. Council Member Bregman then apologized and said he should have just voted no. Either way, the vote went through with the Lodi City Council choosing to appoint the next City Council Member of District 4.
Update: Special Meeting Info
Another Special Meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 14th at 7:00am at the Loel Senior Center (105 S Washington St., Lodi, CA) to hear public comment and approve a candidate application for District 4 residents. A timeline should also be established during that meeting, along with interview questions to ask the candidates.