January 15, 2010 - City voters will decide - Council reverses decision to appoint DeVito's replacement
Paper: Ojai Valley News (CA)
Title: City voters will decide - Council reverses decision to appoint DeVito's replacement
Date: January 15, 2010
Author: Sondra Murphy
Tuesday's meeting of the Ojai City Council was a bit anti-climactic. After voting 3-2 last month to appoint a replacement for the exiting Joe DeVito, the council reversed its decision Tuesday night and voted 3-1 in favor of holding a special election.
Finding a council member replacement has been a focus of the city since DeVito's October announcement of his resignation effective Dec. 31. DeVito's term would have naturally expired in 2010. His successor will therefore only fill the position through the next general election and so will need to run as a candidate on the November ballot to have a chance of continuing on the council.
Councilwomen Carol Smith and Betsy Clapp voted in the minority back in December, both supporting an election to fill the position. DeVito and Council Members Sue Horgan and Steve Olsen voted in favor of appointment, citing the time line and important issues needing the council's immediate attention, such as fiscal concerns, Skate Park construction and Libbey Bowl renovation.
The council members acknowledged that the approximate cost of including a special election on the June primary ballot, estimated at $6,000, was not a lot compared with an individual special election, which would likely be between $30,000 and $36,000.
A June election means that a new council member would not be sworn in until July or August for a seat that will expire within a few months.
Since the decision for appointment, six city residents have applied. Ojai Read and comment on this report at ojaivalleynews.com Unified School District Board Member Pauline Mercado submitted her application late Tuesday afternoon, joining Paul Blatz, Demitri Corbin, Mike Lenehan, Leonard Klaif and John Mirk. Blatz and Klaif are both attorneys active in the local community, while Corbin, Lenehan and Mirk serve on other city commissions.
Smith, who had voted for election, believed that the council should go through with the appointment process out of respect for the applicants. Mayor Olsen had spent time and energy developing the process to be used but was willing to discuss a change in how the position should be filled.
But it was Horgan who moved to reconsider. "We now have six very well qualified people," she said.
"I want to discuss with my colleagues whether the city has been served well and if the applicants have been served fairly. Unfortunately because we didn't put a time line on when the applications were due, not every applicant has had a chance to talk to us." "I don't see how we can back pedal at this point," Smith said. "I feel we really have no choice but to go through with it." Olsen said that he has had many discussions with constituents since the appointment decision and felt swayed by their arguments in favor of election.
The council listened to public comment. Ojai Valley Municipal Advisory Council Member Jerry Kaplan spoke in favor of appointment. "I come before you as one who believes in the election process," he said. "We're dealing with the ideal vs. the practical. This council has many important issues to deal with now, not six months from now, not nine months from now... By not appointing somebody now you are losing 20 percent of the mental input plus the expertise, plus the potential of having a split vote." Like most of the speakers, Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Scott Eicher said the members continued to support letting the voters decide DeVito's replacement. "The chamber urges you to proceed with a special election ," he said.
"But what about the people who showed up to speak," asked Smith. "It's like you show up and have the rug pulled out from under you. I'd like to hear from the applicants." "I disagree," said Olsen. "I think this decision from the very beginning has been the council's decision." He said he would allow the applicants to speak following a decision about reconsidering, which was then unanimously supported by the council.
Among the applicants, only Corbin chose to speak, stating that he applied in order to have some cohesion in the months leading up to the November election.
"I jumped into this fray because I knew that there were important issues and to finish what has been started from someone who knew the history," he said.
"To go through an election process will take me away from other work that I am doing for the city." Following public comments and council discussion, the members voted in favor of putting the item on a ballot. Smith cast the dissenting vote.
Horgan then moved for staff to come back to the Jan. 26 meeting with the necessary resolutions.
City attorney Monte Widders offered legal opinion about several technical questions, including split votes and quorum count. "If you deadlock, then no action is taken," he said and added that even on a fourmember council, three is considered a quorum for discussing business items.
He also said the time line has been met for inclusion on the June ballot, but time was of the essence.
City Clerk Carlon Strobel said documents would need to be submitted to the county by Feb. 1 and the nomination period for June primary election inclusion would be Feb. 13 through March 12. She will return to the next meeting with more information about the time line and ballot process. That meeting is scheduled for Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Ojai City Hall, 401 S. Ventura St.
Page: A1, A6
Record Number: 143183239
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