Council and Mayoral Vacancies: The Who and How Questions

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Joe-KrovozaOfficially we are counting down the days now and it is less than a month until Don Saylor is no longer Mayor or on the Council.  We will have more post-mortems on his tenure, but mostly I see it as a lost opportunity to accomplish something in six months of time.

The Council will now undertake a lengthy and perhaps contentious process to figure out how we will replace the council seat, who will be the next Mayor, and perhaps who will be the next councilmember.

There appears at this time to be three realistic options for replacing the council seat.  That discussion will begin on Tuesday, but let us take some time to weigh in now.

There are really three considerations here: money, timeliness, and procedural fairness.  The city can ill-afford to spend a lot of money on this process.  The city also cannot afford to have a vacant council seat for six months.  Finally, the city council cannot afford to have a process that appears to choose political favoritism over democracy, and therefore whatever process it creates must satisfy a belief that the candidate selection process has legitimacy.

First, we can simply appoint the replacement.  From the standpoint of money, this is the cheapest option as it should be relatively costless.  Second, it is the most timely process as it can begin on January 3 and could end in a matter of weeks. 

Finally, the biggest question is one of legitimacy and procedural fairness.  One should understand that appointment to fill a vacant seat happens all of the time, at all levels of government.  When President Obama appointed various sitting Governors and Senators to a cabinet level position, he left vacancies that were filled by appointments until the next election.  That is what would happen here.  We know that the city has appointed members in the past to fill vacancies, and more recently so has the school board.

While an election would fulfill the procedural fairness perspective, it is fraught with other problems.  Cost of a special election is huge.

Staff estimates that a special election would cost at least $200,000.  “The stand-alone Wildhorse election in November 2009 cost approximately $220,000. Davis’ pro rata share of the last City Council election in June 2010 totaled approximately $65,000. At this point, Yolo County staff does not have any confirmed information regarding potential elections for either date from other jurisdictions.”

Given the margins of our budget, that would mean we might have to relieve two employees of duty to compensate for that cost.

However, there appears to be at least two less costly options.  First, we could hold an all-mail ballot.

From the staff report that appears feasible.

“As a general rule, all municipal elections must permit traditional, in-person voting,” City Attorney Harriet Steiner writes.  “However, the Elections Code outlines a number of exceptions when all-mail ballot voting is permitted.”

She continues, “Elections Code section 4004 allows cities with less than 100,000 residents to use all-mail ballot voting in a special election to fill a Council vacancy if: (1) the City Council passes a resolution allowing mailed ballots for the election, (2) the election is not held on the same date as any statewide primary or general election, (3) the election is not consolidated with any other election and (4) the return of mailed ballots is conducted pursuant to Elections Code section 3017.”

“The City meets all of these requirements,” she concludes. “First, Davis’ current population is approximately 66,500. Second, there are no statewide primary or general elections scheduled for 2011. Third, the election will not be consolidated with any other election. Therefore, if the City Council decides to call a special election, it may conduct a traditional or an all-mail ballot election.”

While the council has sixty days to act on the vacancy, Harriet Steiner states that they believe an all-mailed ballot election could be held on June 7, 2011.

That option may achieve the cost perspective and the procedural one, but it falls way short on the timeliness perspective.  A June election, which if called for on January 3, is likely about the earliest you could hold an election, (remember the end of July was the limit for having a November election back in 2009).  That would mean the seat would be vacant for over five months. 

There is another option the staff report did not consider and that is the school district is most likely going to run a parcel tax election and may do so as soon as May.  The city could piggyback on that and save both entities on the cost.  Again, that might save money, it might also fulfill the procedural concerns, but even a May election (which might not be possible given the timeline), would mean four months of vacancy on the council.

As my argument here suggests, the appointment process is probably the least bad in that it is the least costly option – a huge concern at this time, and it is the most timely option – another huge concern is not to have a long period of four members, where action may be hamstrung. Of course, an election would be the most optimal, in terms of democratic process.

Appointment is not without precedent, and the individual would have to run for election in June of 2012, anyway.

There are those who will undoubtedly disagree with this idea, but I believe it is also the most likely outcome, given logistics.

Next, the question is who should be appointed.  It is probably not fair to name names, but let me address a couple of public figures whose names have been thrown out.

First, Lamar Heystek does not appear to be interested in the position from everything that I have heard.  He just got married, he wants to have a family and this is just not the time.  For a lot of reasons he would be a great choice for this position, but it is just not going to happen.

Second, Sydney Vergis, even if she is interested, will not get appointed.  There is some bad blood from the election and there are likely three members not amenable to such as an appointment, if not all four.

Third, Helen Thomson is not a great idea.  I doubt that she had in mind swapping places with Don Saylor when she retired.  She has never served on a city council.  While I personally think very highly of her, I do not see eye-to-eye with her on a number of land use issues.  Her strengths really lie in social services, which is not a huge part of the council’s role.  The council needs to deal with land use issues and with fixing the budget, and I just do not see her being a good fit there.

I do not have a person in mind.  But my first thought is that I would be interested in seeing a person of color considered for the role.  We now have an all-white council.  I know that will not sit well with a lot of people, but I have never shied away from controversial statements before.  I think there is a segment of the Davis population not represented on the current council.

Second, I would like to see new blood on the council.  That means I do not want to see a current elected official, a past candidate for office, or people who have been around the block for the last twenty or thirty years.  I think we need new ideas and we need to reach out beyond the current political divide to get them.

Third, I would like to see someone younger on the council, if possible.  Right now Councilmember Rochelle Swanson is the youngest member of the council, and I would like to see someone in her age range or younger serve on the council.  I have nothing against people in their 50s or 60s, but that portion of the population is well represented on the current council and has been for some time.

Finally, on the issue of Mayor… I have stated before that I believe that Joe Krovoza should be the next mayor of Davis.  I understand that the council is not obligated to appoint him in that position, even though he was the highest vote getter and is the Mayor Pro Tem, who serves as Mayor in the absence of the Mayor.

From a procedural standpoint, it makes the most sense for him to be mayor and avoid political maneuvering.

I also think he has the right demeanor to be Mayor, he represents a very broad swath of the Davis voters, as people on both sides of the divide supported him.  He got the support of Sue Greenwald, Don Saylor, and Stephen Souza.  That should tell us something.

He is not a guy who is going to be uncivil in public discussions.  He will be procedurally fair.  And he is a consensus builder.

There is no perfect choice, of course, and critics will point out some probems.  Joe Krovoza has a disadvantage in that he has just been elected to the council and is still learning the ropes.  That is a sizable disadvantage, and it becomes apparent from time to time.  At the same time, he has shown himself, particularly in our private discussions, to be a quick study and a fast learner.

All that being said, I still believe that, of the realistic options, he seems like the most logical choice from a procedural standpoint and the best choice from a policy and governing standpoint.

But nothing in Davis runs smoothly, so this figures to be a thorny subject for some time to come.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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23 thoughts on “Council and Mayoral Vacancies: The Who and How Questions”

  1. hpierce

    For the selection of a new council person… I recommend someone who appears unlikely to run for Council, now or in the future… someone who appears to be willing to spend their time and effort for the betterment of the community… someone who may be hard to convince to serve as a councilmember, as opposed to ‘just’ on a commission… someone who appears to be not only knowledgeable, but intelligent and articulate to boot… Johannes Troost. We could use his skills and perspectives NOW, and in 18 months, I’ll bet he’d want to move on. Then David can have his “democratic” (c’mon, it’s ALL political!) and the democracy can choose a young person “of color”.

    For Mayor… July 2010, Krovoza is scheduled to take the gavel… the fact of the matter is that if the Council doesn’t act to choose a new mayor, he will be acting Mayor as default. There is no special power that the Mayor has as far as voting or influence (except in working with the city manager to prioritize agenda items). The simplest, hence IMHO BEST course of action is to have Joe serve as mayor.

  2. Dr. Wu

    I think understanding of the City’s budget/finance issues is key. And someone who is willing to act in the best interests of the City and its residents w/o another agenda.

    A younger candidate would be nice; one w/o a political agenda would be nice. But understanding of the budget and being willing to do what is right is by far the most important criterion.

  3. Adrienne Kandel

    One democratic option would be to appoint an ex officio City Council member. This person would volunteer for all City Council duties and committees, would sit in Council with the other Council members and join their debates, but would not get to vote because they weren’t voted in. Any voting appointee is likely to have opinions on the few but important issues Davisites disagree passionately about, mostly about land use.

  4. Dr. Wu

    Would someone good want to participate w/o a vote and how much credence would people give to their comments w/o a vote? Also there is a 5 member council for a reason–no tie votes.

  5. davisite2

    IMO, leaving the Council at 4 members probably removes important and controversial issues that cannot be expected to garner a 3-1 vote for 4-6 months. On the positive side, this would slow the pace of the Council decision workload and allow our 2 new Council members more time to establish their Council ‘sea-legs” as our representatives.

  6. hpierce

    Having an ex-officio member is, to be very charitable, absurd… giving someone the bully pulpit, and no responsibility is WRONG… if this was done, the position should be unpaid, no benefits, and rotated no less than once a month… BTW, the United States, the State of California and the City of Davis are not, technically, democracies… they are republics… a democracy (as I understand it) would have every citizen vote on every item, including consent items… voters chose the council members… one of the duties we bestowed on them, by electing them, was to fill vacancies in their council. They need to do this. Ultimately, they will be responsible to the electorate for their choice… good enough for me…

  7. Rifkin

    [b]”While the council has [u]sixty[/u] days to act on the vacancy, Harriet Steiner states that they believe an all-mailed ballot election could be held on June 7, 2011.”[/b]

    This is slightly wrong. The council has 30 days, not 60 days to act. Here is the specific applicable language from California Government Code – Section 36512.(b) [quote]If a vacancy occurs in an elective office provided for in this chapter, the council shall, [b]within 30 days[/b] from the commencement of the vacancy, either fill the vacancy by appointment or call a special election to fill the vacancy. The special election shall be held on the next regularly established election date [b]not less than 114 days[/b] from the call of the special election. A person appointed or elected to fill a vacancy holds office for the unexpired term of the former incumbent.[/quote] Don Saylor is going to be sworn in as a member of the Board of Supes on Monday, January 3. If he submits his resignation to the Davis City Council that day, that means the City Council has until February 2, 2011 to either appoint someone to fill Saylor’s seat or call for a special election.

    February 1 is a Tuesday, so I think that would be the last day to call an election (or appoint a replacement). 114 days after February 2 is Friday, May 27. Thus, May 31 is likely the first possible date for a special election. However, June 7 is just 1 week later, so that date makes perfect sense.

    There is also one more point to consider. The DCC could pass an ordinance which allows them to appoint an interim member of the City Council who would serve only until a new member is elected. Here is the Code language: [quote] 36512(c) Notwithstanding subdivision (b) and Section 34902, a city may enact an ordinance which: (3)Provides that a person appointed to fill a vacancy on the city council holds office only until the date of a special election which shall immediately be called to fill the remainder of the term. The special election may be held on the date of the next regularly established election or regularly scheduled municipal election to be held throughout the city not less than 114 days from the call of the special election.[/quote] If we are going to have an election next June, I think makes sense to appoint someone to serve the 4 months in between. I would also think if someone were appointed for four months, it would make the most sense to choose someone who previously served on the City Council, because such a person would not have to get up to speed.

    Here is a list (off the top of my head) of people who were members of the City Council, are still alive, are still Davis residents and are not holding another office which precludes them. Sorry if I missed someone: Lamar Heystek, Ted Puntillo, Ruth Asmundson, Michael Harrington, Ken Wagstaff, Sheryl Freeman (?), Jerry Kaneko, Maynard Skinner, Mike Corbett, Deborah Nichols-Poulos, Ann Evans, Jerry Adler, Bill Kopper, Jim Stevens, Joan Poulos, Dick Holdstock, Tom Tomasi.

    ? Not sure if she still lives in town.

  8. Adrienne Kandel

    Our City Council volunteers each probably spend an 20 to 30 hours a week preparing for and attending a variety of required local and regional meetings. With only 4 members this workload will increase 25% because they split up the agencies.
    Staying at 4 members has the advantage of delaying controversial yet irreversible land use decisions, with the need for a 3-1 supermajority. I like this. If 3 voter-picked individuals don’t agree for it, don’t push it.
    But City Council members might want a 5th colleague to split the work. Commissions have nonvoting ex officio and alternate members who wield lots of influence by having good ideas, sharing them, and being able to participate in the debate and shaping of policy decisions and ordinances without casting a final vote. A nonvoting City Council member would also have influence. Their motivation to serve would be caring deeply about the City and world – just like everyone who runs for Council – and earning invaluable policy experience.
    Of course they’d receive no salary just as City Council members don’t. (I think the mayor may get a near-$100/month stipend however – can someone enlighten me?)

  9. E Roberts Musser

    What does youth and ethnicity have to do with knowing what the heck you’re doing with regard to City Council issues? I would much prefer an appointment to the City Council be someone who knows the issues, is willing to address them in a fiscally responsible way, and has the backbone to stand up and speak out – regardless of age or race/ethnicity…

  10. Rifkin

    [i]”Of course they’d receive no salary just as City Council members don’t. (I think the mayor may get a near-$100/month stipend however – can someone enlighten me?)”[/i]

    Adrienne, see Municipal Code 2.01.110 Compensation of council members: [quote](b)Pursuant to the provisions of Government Code section 36516(c), the compensation of each member of the city council shall be increased to a monthly salary of six hundred and sixty-nine dollars and forty nine cents [b]($669.49)[/b]. This increase in compensation shall be effective at the beginning of the term of office of the councilmembers elected at the election of March 2000.[/quote] Additionally, I believe all members of the City Council qualify for healthcare benefits ([url]http://www.city.davis.ca.us/cmo/hr/pdf/benifit-summary.pdf[/url]) (which last year were $18,100 each and are currently about $19,000 per year) and if the member serves for 5 or more years, I believe the member can also qualify for pension benefits and lifetime retiree healthcare benefits. I would not be surprised to find that the taxpayers of Davis are paying more than $250,000 this year for the healthcare of current and retired members of the Davis City Council.

  11. Adrienne Kandel

    Thanks, Rich. I was speaking from old (apparently pre-2000) information and a misinterpretation of the absence of salary entries on the “City Council” line of the budget. My mistake – “City Council” was only a heading. The following line, called “Policy Development and Adoption” has salaries and benefits of $84,296, which suggests benefits alone cost $16,190 per Council member (given their $669 salaries). Then there are other expenses of $52,993 (nearly $10,600 per member) – is that office space and support and travel? http://cityofdavis.org/finance/budget/10-11/pdfs/07.-City-Council-Final-10_11.pdf

  12. wdf1

    DMG: There is another option the staff report did not consider and that is the school district is most likely going to run a parcel tax election and may do so as soon as May.

    David, you may want to check to verify this, but I understand that there are some legal problems with running a school parcel tax on a mail-in ballot in May. I heard that things have been leaning toward running the parcel tax as a regular-type election in June. Can’t verify at the moment, unfortunately.

  13. Rifkin

    David: [i]”While the council has sixty days to act on the vacancy, Harriet Steiner states that they believe an all-mailed ballot election could be held on June 7, 2011.”[/i]

    Rich: [b]”This is slightly wrong. The council has 30 days, not 60 days to act.”[/b]

    Apparently, state law on this matter is going to change on January 1. That’s what the staff report says. As such, I stand corrected. (I don’t think, though, it makes much difference. I think the council will act no later than its first meeting in February, if not sooner.)

  14. David M. Greenwald

    “What does youth and ethnicity have to do with knowing what the heck you’re doing with regard to City Council issues?”

    The same reason we might not want all people who are doctors or lawyers to sit on the council. There is strength in a diversity of viewpoints and backgrounds.

  15. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “The same reason we might not want all people who are doctors or lawyers to sit on the council. There is strength in a diversity of viewpoints and backgrounds.”

    At this point, I’m more interested in fiscal responsibility than diversity of background…

  16. rusty49

    “What does youth and ethnicity have to do with knowing what the heck you’re doing with regard to City Council issues?”

    Agreed ERM, for some reason David likes to bring race into many of his stories.

  17. Rifkin

    DAVE: [i]”But my first thought is that I would be interested in seeing a person of color considered for the role. We now have an all-white council. I know that will not sit well with a lot of people, but I have never shied away from controversial statements before. I think there is a segment of the Davis population not represented on the current council.”[/i]

    That is a very strong endorsement for the return of Ruth Asmundson, apparently. Or is Ruth the wrong color, too?

  18. Justin Kudo

    I would think an appointment is the most appropriate way of handling this situation. It’s certainly not in the flavor of Davis attitudes or those commonly found on this site, but it usually works fine and I believe the Council is diverse enough to make a solid decision (would recommend choice voting on this, FWIW).

    Elaine’s suggestion to have an ex-officio member is fraught with problems. Having a 4 member voting council for any prolonged period of time is a huge issue. It also highlights why this needs to be done quickly.

    I have confidence in the appointment system. It has been used in quite a few cities, counties, and states. It seems unreasonable to assume that it wouldn’t work sufficiently here in Davis.

  19. Justin Kudo

    Darn, really wish there was an edit option.

    I think there’s some value to perspective. It’s not critical and is a minor point for evaluating a candidate. I’m probably biased as well, being 29 myself.

    Point being, I can see why it’d be nice to have someone younger on the council. It’s certainly not going to be a qualification and will hardly register with me. But it’d be a bonus. We have a lot of folks in the 18-30 range in Davis, who are in-effect disenfranchised (of their own doing) within the city’s political system because they don’t vote. It’d be nice to get someone who can understand their interests and possibly motivate their participation in local issues.

  20. E Roberts Musser

    JK: “Elaine’s suggestion to have an ex-officio member is fraught with problems. Having a 4 member voting council for any prolonged period of time is a huge issue. It also highlights why this needs to be done quickly.”

    I’m not sure where you got the idea that I suggested an ex-officio member? I just want someone (anyone) appointed/elected who is fiscally responsible, age or ethnicity notwithstanding. Our city’s fiscal house is not in order, and needs to be set to rights. I also heartily agree with you that a 4 member voting council would be problematic.

    I tend to agree with dmg here, that an appointment would be the logical solution to this knotty issue of Don Saylor’s vacancy. Having an election is just too fraught with problems.

  21. Justin Kudo

    ERM: I apologize! I could have sworn it was your comment, but apparently it was Adrienne’s. And yeah, agree with everything else you said wholeheartedly.

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