A composite photo with an image of Banning City Hall in the background and a portrait of Banning Councilmember Reuben Gonzales in front of it.
Banning Councilmember Reuben Gonzales this week submitted his resignation, effective immediately. (Portrait courtesy of the city of Banning)

After a heated discussion over the legality of appointing someone to fill the District 4 city council seat vacated last month, the Banning City Council voted to move forward with the appointment process.

According to City Attorney Serita Young, the council has 60 days from the resignation of former Councilmember Reuben Gonzales to fill the vacancy, which means the city has until Feb. 10 to make an appointment or call for a special election.

However, Councilmember Sheri Flynn felt the timeline provided by Young was a misapplication of the term residency, which she interpreted to mean as living within the confines of the district in which a member of the council was elected.

“Mr. Gonzales, at the last meeting when he resigned, said that he knew around Aug. 1, he was given 60 days [to find a new place to live], and he said that, and it’s on record that he told the city manager and [Young] immediately,” Flynn said. “So he had 60 days, which would bring it to Oct. 1.

“So he moved out, and that … terminated his office, and it has an immediate vacancy,” she continued. “That is the municipal code, and that is the state code.”

Flynn said that because Gonzales no longer resided within the District 4 limits as of October, the 60 day timeframe to appoint another member to the council had already expired, forcing the council to call for a special election to fill the seat.

“If it’s not within 60 days, which Oct. 1 is not, then what do you do,” she said. “I have read it where it says you cannot have an appointment, you must have a special election.”

However, Young said that residency had been legally interpreted to mean more than simply living in the district.

“Under the law, as that term is interpreted, residency includes two things,” she said. “Two things must be met. Not only is it your physical presence, but it’s your intent to remain where you are.”

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And since it was Gonzales’ stated intent to move back into District 4 as soon as he was able after being displaced, Young said his seat was not, in fact, vacated prior to his official resignation on Dec. 12 in which he notified the council that he was no longer seeking residency in the district he was elected to represent.

“You only lose residency when you have two things combined together: your physical location is different and your intent to remain in that different location is there,” she said.

After the heated back and forth, Mayor Alberto Sanchez made the motion to move forward with the process to appoint an eligible District 4 resident to the seat until an election can be held in November to fill the remainder of Gonzales’ term, which was not set to expire until 2026.

Mayor Pro-Tem Rick Minjares and Councilmember Colleen Wallace had previously spoken in favor of appointing someone to the seat earlier in the meeting, stating that it would give residents both a representative on the council ahead of the election and the option to vote for their member of council come November.

“You should be able to vote for your person, which you’ll be able to do — no matter what we do up here — in November,” Minjares said. “But if we don’t appoint, you have no representation until then.”

The motion ultimately passed 3-1 with Flynn voting against.

“See you in court,” she said as she packed up her things and left the dais, leaving the remaining three to finish the meeting. “I’m done. Another litigation.”

A video of the meeting can be found here on the city’s website.

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Alicia Ramirez is the publisher of TN News and the founder and CEO of its parent company TN News.