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SJUSD board votes to fill Citrus Heights seat by special election

San Juan Unified School District board members meet during an emergency meeting on March 31 to discuss how to fill a seat left vacant by Steve Miller, who passed away on March 25. // Screenshot, SJUSD Youtube

Sentinel staff report–
During an emergency meeting held Friday afternoon, the San Juan Unified School District’s governing board was initially split 3-3 on whether the vacant seat left by the late Steve Miller should be filled by special election or provisional appointment — but concluded with a unanimous vote to hold a special election.

Vice President Pam Costa said the board’s quick action to fill Miller’s seat less than a week after his death shouldn’t be viewed by the public as insensitive, noting a legal requirement to complete the process within 60 days.

An initial motion by Trustee Paula Villescaz to fill the vacant seat by provisional appointment was countered by Trustee Ben Avey with an alternative motion to fill the seat by special election. Avey’s motion failed on a 3-3 vote, followed by another failed 3-3 vote on filling the seat by appointment.

With no majority vote from the board, trustees were advised during the meeting that the county by default would move forward with filling the seat through a special election. Board President Zima Creason then offered that she was willing to change her vote in order to not delay the process.

A subsequent motion to fill the seat by special election then drew support from all six trustees, in a unanimous vote to fill the seat through an election on Nov. 7, 2023.

During the initial two motions, Trustees Tanya Kravchuk and Saul Hernandez joined Avey in supporting a special election, citing the value of giving voters a direct voice in the process and noting resident comments in support of an election. Several public speakers addressed trustees during the meeting, including Citrus Heights Mayor Tim Schaefer, all of whom expressed support for holding a special election.

Creason and Costa joined Villescaz in initially supporting the provisional appointment option, citing an estimated $155,000 cost to host a special election and also noting that the appointment process would fill the seat within 60 days instead of the seat remaining vacant until after a special election in November.

If the board had opted for an appointment process, the seat would have been filled temporarily until the November 2024 election next year, at which point voters would have chosen a candidate to fill the seat for a full four-year term. Via special election, the seat will be filled through the November 2026 election, with the winner completing the remainder of the four-year term Miller had been elected to.

Villescaz had initially argued that the appointment process would have given voters a greater voice by letting them vote on a permanent replacement during a presidential election, which she said are known to have much higher turnouts than special elections. Hernandez replied that a special election gives voters the chance to be heard, whether they choose to vote or not.

Miller won election to the newly created Area 7 seat in November last year, following his 17 years of service as a Citrus Heights City Council member. The Area 7 seat represents most of Citrus Heights, giving area residents a voice on the school board.

Related: San Juan has 3 new school board members. What will that mean for 2023?

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