By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Tuesday, September 4th, 2007 at 8:38 pm in Contra Costa politics.
After weeks of rumors and heightened expectations, the Concord City Council voted 4-0 tonight to appoint Guy Bjerke to replace the late Councilman Michael Chavez.
Handed a ballot, the four councilmembers made no opening comments or engaged in protracted deliberations over the 18 people that had applied but each marked Bjerke as their top choice in less than 30 seconds.
Bjerke won the council over with his combination of experience, personal relationships with the members of the council and their belief that he has the background to quickly assume the duties at a time when the city has a number of major issues on its plate. Bjerke has been on the city’s Planning Commission for seven years; he’s been the chairman for the past two years.
“Persistent counts,” Bjerke said after he was appointed. “This is my fourth time.”
Bjerke unsuccessfully sought appointment once and ran twice for the council and lost, in several cases to the councilmembers who voted tonight to make him one of their own.
Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister, in particular, noted that she had beat Bjerke in an election and later opposed his appointment to the Planning Commission because she feared he would vote for developers’ interests over the city’s interests. (Bjerke, at the time, worked for the Homebuilders Association; he is currently the economic development director for the city of Antioch.)
“But I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Hoffmeister said. “He listens to the community. He turns down projects and he votes in ways that don’t make developers happy. He does have an impartial view and I think the community should give him a fair shot.”
Councilman Bill Shinn, who served with Bjerke on the Planning Commission, said he used a spreadsheet and entered the applicants’ experience and other factors to reach his decision.
“I had six top candidates and on balance, I felt Guy would be a good fit,” Shinn said.
Bjerke’s appointment is not without controversy despite the swift and unanimous vote.
An email campaign in the past week raised the question of whether Bjerke could serve both as the economic development director in Antioch and as a city councilman in Concord. Some say he will be in a position to redirect new jobs into or away from his employer or Concord.
Bjerke said he doesn’t anticipate a conflict given the different jobs of an elected councilmember and a staff person but people will be watching him for any signs of a conflict.
Bjerke was also not the first choice of a neighborhood group formed to influence the outcome of the planning process for the Concord Naval Weapons Station. They preferred Ursula Luna-Reynosa, a member of the city’s advisory council to the station effort, or former council candidate Chuck Carpenter.
The council didn’t even mention applicant Ron Leone, the man who had one of the strongest arguments in his favor — he was the next-highest vote-getter in the 2006 election.
On the other hand, he lost to a woman who wasn’t even running. As you may recall, Councilwoman Helen Allen tried to withdraw from the race but failed to make the request in time to have her name removed from the ballot. She didn’t raise or spend any money but developers put out an independent mailer and she came in third place.
Nor did the councilmembers express a desire to select a candidate with views similar to those of the late Michael Chavez, who died Aug. 4 of a heart attack during a public meeting on the Naval Weapons Station. His widow, Vikki, had applied but she withdrew her name and then re-entered the pool within the span of a few days. The councilmembers expressed sympathy but showed no interest in appointing her to her husband’s former post.
After two failed elections, Bjerke has finally made it onto the council through the appointment process. But he won’t escape an election. If he hopes to keep his post, he’ll have to run in 2010 although he will have a huge advantage as an incumbent.