During its Oct. 9 meeting, Sunset Valley City Council voted to delay appointing a new council member until its Oct. 23 meeting.
The council voted 3-1, with Mayor Pro Tem Rudi Rosengarten opposing.
In September, the city collected applications to fill the council vacancy after Zubair Hamir resigned. In his resignation letter, Hamir wrote that he and his family planned to move out of the city.
Two residents applied for the position: Randy Machemehl and Mickie Powers. Both briefly addressed the council and answered questions.
Machemehl is a professor of transportation engineering at The University of Texas. He has lived in the city for 11 years and served on the public works committee.
In his comments to the council, he said he has no agenda or pet projects.
"I respect others' opinions and want to perpetuate the unique characteristics of the city. I do not want to change it," he said. "I strive to speak only the truth on every issue and make decisions that maximize the benefits to the community as a whole."
Powers is the director of a nonprofit helping the formerly incarcerated re-enter society. She has lived in the city for 33 years and has previously served on Sunset Valley City Council as councilwoman and Mayor Pro Tem.
In her comments, she said she would bring a historic perspective to the council without being beholden to a "that's how we've always done it" mentality.
"Skill-wise, I would say I have the ability to analyze both sides of the picture and play devil's advocate," she said. "The council part of me likes to have a balance and for there not to be as much rancor."
Despite praising both applicants as excellent and highly qualified, the mayor and council members seemed hesitant to appoint one.
Mayor Rose Cardona said she had received more emails in the day prior to the meeting on the appointment issue than she had on any other issue in her time on City Council. She said the emails were well-reasoned, and it was clear their authors had put effort into them.
Council dynamics played a role in the discussion.
Cardona said she has served as the tie-breaking vote for the now four-member council—a role she dislikes. She said she wanted to avoid a tie vote on the appointment issue and later be accused of picking an applicant for political reasons.
She drew a distinction between voting for a candidate and appointing a position. She advised the council to pick a person "who is qualified to take over a job mid-session, who is ready to rock and roll, and who understands what's going on."
She told the audience that the appointment process was not about which candidate's supporters sent the most emails to council.
The mayor read a letter from former Mayor Terry Cowan, who could not attend the meeting. Cowan wrote that the appointment would mean 40 percent of the council—two out of five—was not elected by the people. Cardona resigned her council seat after being elected mayor. The council appointed Councilman Jeff Burdett, who had lost his May council race to Hamir by a single vote.
Cowan said that a two-member voting bloc could be a swing majority on the current council.
After being asked by council, City Administrator Clay Collins said the earliest Sunset Valley could hold an election is May 2013.
Cardona asked a few hypothetical questions to attempt to draw differences between the applicants.
If forced to end one subsidy, both chose the garbage collection subsidy because it would have the smallest impact on residents.
Cardona asked what they would look for if they were appointing a midterm council member. Powers suggested a good working relationship and someone who could fit the role for current circumstances. Machemehl said to look for who would go to the greatest lengths to represent all residents.
In a brief exchange, council members discussed the merits of Powers' prior council experience and Machemehl's traffic engineering background, but did not contrast them.
Council members also considered where the applicants lived; appointing one of the applicants would create a council where each area of the city had two representatives. Cardona said she liked the idea of geographic balance.
Rosengarten made a motion to appoint Machemehl. The motion died for lack of a second. No counter motion was made to appoint Powers instead.
A few public speakers endorsed an applicant. Machemehl's supporters highlighted his experience with roads and traffic engineering. Powers' supporters praised her previous council experience and noted that current council members have not lived in the city for a long time.
One speaker asked the council to wait until an election could be held in May, which she said will be here in no time. Another pushed the council to act.
"I hope no one takes offense at this, but I am disappointed," John Bellanca said. "We have one person who doesn't want to vote at all. One who sort of stated a preference for one candidate. The other three are mute.
"You should be discussing the pros and cons of the candidates who presented themselves before you instead of waiting and talking to your neighbors about it. You know who these guys are. You've talked to them before. One has been your neighbor for 30 years. The other has been for at least 10 years. Both have served on committees."
Resident Mary Black jokingly suggested that a current council member resign so the council could appoint both applicants.
Councilman Forrest Arnold made the motion to delay the vote for two weeks. He said that it would give the council time to digest the applicants' speeches and the emails they had received. Councilman Walter Jenkins seconded the motion.