Phoenix City Council Appoints Staffer Felicita Mendoza to Fill Vacancy

Phoenix City Council staff member Felicita Mendoza was appointed on Tuesday to fill a vacancy on the council.EXPAND
Phoenix City Council staff member Felicita Mendoza was appointed on Tuesday to fill a vacancy on the council.
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The Phoenix City Council is whole again. (Well, almost.)

During a special meeting Tuesday, council members voted 5-2 to appoint staffer Felicita Mendoza to represent Phoenix's District 8, a liberal-leaning and diverse district comprising parts of downtown and southeast Phoenix.

It was the second vacancy on the council filled by appointment this month. Once the city elects a new mayor in November (or March, if there's a runoff), the council will finally have nine voting members again after months of empty seats at the dais.

Mendoza will replace Kate Gallego, who stepped down in early August to run for mayor. She beat out 15 other candidates for the District 8 position, each of whom got five minutes on Tuesday to help convince the council he or she was the best person for the job.

Mendoza is no stranger to local government, having worked in City Hall since 2009. At the time of her appointment, she was serving as council member Michael Nowakowski's chief of staff.

The council vote caps off a tumultuous summer of shakeups that began when former mayor Greg Stanton resigned to run for Congress.

Stanton’s departure in late May led to the resignations of two council members, Gallego and Daniel Valenzuela, who left their seats to run for mayor. The council appointed former council staffer Vania Guevara to represent the District 5 seat left vacant by Valenzuela. Some government watchers, who believed developer Justin Johnson would take the seat, were surprised by Guevara's appointment.

The interim council members will serve until voters elect permanent council members in a March special election. Guevara is running in the special election, but Mendoza is not.

Council members who voted in favor of Mendoza's appointment included Nowakowski, Sal DiCiccio, and Debra Stark, as well as Acting Mayor Thelda Williams and Vice Mayor Jim Waring. Council members Guevara and Laura Pastor voted no.

Waring, who put forward the motion to appoint Mendoza, said he supported her because she is not seeking the permanent position. Waring has been critical of the appointment process and he again decried it as undemocratic, stressing that incumbents tend to stay in office. Council appointees have fared well in special elections, winning four of the last six.

"It’s a crummy process. I don't like it. I want to change it,” Waring said, characterizing the past months of changes in the council as plagued by "shenanigans."

He proposed banning appointees from running in special elections, prohibiting council staffers from taking interim positions, and requiring that candidates be politically independent.

Pastor, in explaining her "no" vote, said that in the interest of diversity she would've preferred a black candidate to fill the role.

"Currently there are three Hispanic council members and there should be representation from the African-American community," she said.

Several black community leaders applied for the position, including former council member Michael Johnson, who represented District 8 from 2003 to 2013.

Although the interim period lasts less than a year, Guevara and Mendoza will potentially vote on the future of the planned South Central Light Rail Extension. Residents of District 8 would be served by the extension, which former council member Gallego supported.

Following an outcry from business owners who said they felt unheard in the planning process, the City Council voted in June to study the possibility of implementing a new design that would allow Central Avenue to keep four lanes of traffic instead of two.

(Clarification: The story was updated to note that the council will have a full nine members again once a new mayor is elected.)

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