By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A former mayor is taking over the Cotati City Council seat left vacant since Councilman Robert Coleman-Senghor died April 9.
John Dell’Osso beat out four other applicants for the seat, including Sonoma State University professor and planning commissioner Ben Ford and recalled former councilman George Barich.
Dell’Osso, the city’s mayor from 1995 to 1996, will serve out Coleman-Senghor’s term until November 2012. He could then stand for election.
The City Council appointed him by a 3-1 vote after a meeting in which each applicant was interviewed in front of a packed audience.
His experience on the council proved decisive.
“That is the key that sets him apart right now,” said Mayor Janet Orchard.
Dell’Osso is National Park Service ranger and also a Sonoma County library commissioner. He was a councilman from 1994 to 1998, a period when Lucky Supermarkets tried to open a Cotati store, leading to one of the city’s most heated political battles.
Ford, who told the council “my breadth of experience is unusual,” won the support of Councilman Mark Landman. He said the professor would bring a “fresh face and new perspective” to the council and strengthen the city’s connection with SSU.
But Landman delayed the nomination until his colleagues finished their comments about the applicants.
Councilwoman Pat Gilardi spoke next and nominated Dell’Osso.
“We have 18 months and I’m thinking of someone who can hit the ground running,” Gilardi said.
“I have a good understanding of city operations,” said Dell’Osso, making his case to the council.
He said his focus during his abbreviated term would be on “long-term strategic planning” and economic development.
The applicants included George Barich, who was recalled in 2009 after a year on the council. The two other candidates were William Strickland, a business consultant, and Linnel Hardy, a former planning commissioner who ran for the council in 2009.
Residents lobbied for each of the candidates — most heavily for either Dell’Osso or Ford. And one spoke against anyone being appointed.
“This empty chair should be filled by election, and I think the public deserves an explanation of your decision” to appoint someone instead, said Bradley Yearwood.
The council decided in April to invite applicants, saying the city quickly needed a full, five-member council. An election would cost about $22,000, city staff said.
Coleman-Senghor, an SSU professor, died of a torn aorta. He played a key role in pushing through a Cotati sales tax measure in 2010 that has helped stabilize the city’s financial condition.