If Holstege, Middleton leave City Council mid-term, here's what happens

Palm Springs Mayor Christy Holstege (far right), and Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton (third from left) at the dedication of a plaque honoring former City Manager David Ready (second from left) last month. Ginny Foat, a former City Council member, is at far left.

Both Palm Springs Mayor Christy Holstege and Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton have announced their intent to seek higher office during the middle of their current terms. What happens if they win?

The answer is as simple or complex as you care to make it, but the “too long, didn’t read” version is this: It’s up to their colleagues on the Palm Springs City Council.

City Clerk Anthony Mejia would be responsible for helping guide the city when and if either Holstege or Middleton win. He said Tuesday that while the state provides the City Council with 60 days to either appoint new Council members or call a special election, the city’s charter limits that timeline to 45 days.

While the California Elections Code is not very prescriptive about the process, he said the city would most likely follow the example of other municipalities and provide an open process.

“It is typical in most other communities to provide an open application and interview process with the remaining City Council responsible for selecting the appointee,” he said. ”Ultimately, the City Council will need to provide direction to staff on how they would like the appointment process to proceed if the situation occurs.”

A decision tree that outlines how Palm Springs would move forward if one or both City Council members should win election to higher office in the middle of their current terms. The 60-day timeline is actually 45 days in Palm Springs.

The following is a likely timeline:

  • Holstege, who represents District 4 in the city, is running for the State Assembly in the 42nd District. Middleton represents District 5 and hopes to win the State Senate seat in the 28th District. First, they would need to survive a June 2022 primary against any opponents who choose to enter either race.

  • If either or both survive the June 2022 primary, they would be on the ballot for the November 2022 General Election.

  • If either or both win in the General Election, they would be seated in Sacramento the first Monday in December following the election. Since the current terms of both Holstege and Middleton do not expire in Palm Springs until the end of 2024, that would leave a seat, or seats, needing to be filled on the City Council.

  • If most City Council seats were vacant (three of the five), the city would have only one option, a special election. But because that is not the scenario, how those seats are filled — either by appointment or via a special election — would be decided by the existing City Council members. Holstege and Middleton could participate in that decision. If appointing new Council members is the Council’s preferred method to fill the vacancies, they could also participate in that process.

  • Any candidates for appointment would be required to come from the city district where a vacancy exists (You can see Palm Springs voting districts here). Any special election would only take place in the district where a vacancy exists. The city is required to hold any special election within 114 days of calling the election.

  • Once seated by either method, any new member of the City Council would serve out the term of the Council member they are replacing. They would need to run in 2024 to retain the seat.

Whether any of the above scenarios play out, it is entirely likely the Palm Springs City Council will look much different within the next two years. By seeking higher public office in the middle of their terms, Holstege and Middleton have provided every indication they hope to leave the City Council. The terms of Geoff Kors, Grace Garner, and Dennis Woods all expire at the end of 2022, and none have announced they intend to run for re-election.