After repeatedly deadlocking in 2-2 votes and staunchly defending their opposing philosophies, the Solvang City Council appointed Karen Waite to fill the seat left vacant when Hans Duus resigned Aug. 28 after being forced to move out of the city.
Waite was the designated appointee, based on a controversial council protocol, and was confirmed Friday night on a 3-0-1 vote, with Mayor Jim Richardson, Councilwoman Joan Jamieson and Councilman Ryan Toussaint in the majority.
Councilman Neill Zimmerman, who at the start of the special meeting asked that the protocol be placed on a future agenda for discussion, abstained “with comments.”
“I’m happy because now we can continue with (the city’s) business,” Waite said after she was sworn in, which drew applause from the audience. “We have issues with water and the protocol that need to be addressed very quickly.
“I mentioned talking about infrastructure and streets — things that are very important to help out with tourism and for safety,” she said.
One issue she wants the council to address is the lack of bicycle lanes, which she said are becoming increasingly important because the number of cyclists is growing. But without designated lanes, they are riding farther out in the streets, which is hazardous to their safety.
“I’m looking forward to developing a good working relationship with the rest of the council, which I think will happen,” Waite said.
Breaking the ties
The decision to appoint Waite represented a compromise on the part of Toussaint, who in discussions at several regular and special council meetings was philosophically opposed to the process laid out by the adopted protocol.
Toussaint sided with Zimmerman in multiple 2-2 votes as the council struggled to reach agreement on a process, but he made no comment about his voting change Friday, although he seconded Jamieson’s motion to appoint Waite.
During the roll-call vote, Zimmerman said he supported Waite, but he abstained because he believes appointing the runner-up from an election held a year ago is not fair.
He said a replacement should be chosen through a special election or by appointing someone who already sits on a city board or commission.
“I’m coming from a place of fairness, right and power to the people,” Zimmerman said.
Until her appointment Friday night, Waite sat on the city’s Board of Architectural Review.
As in previous meetings, opinion was also divided among public speakers, including some who hoped to apply for the vacancy and others who were former mayors and council members, and a few of the comments devolved into personal attacks and recriminations involving other speakers.
Nancy Orchard was among those favoring a special election.
“A lot has happened in a year,” she said. “You’re talking annexation, there are serious problems with water and water rates and accounting … . I’d like to hear what candidates have to say on the issues facing us now.”
Those who supported appointing Waite included Patrick Cavanaugh, who pointed out the city only had three weeks left to appoint someone or call for an election.
“Waiting for an election would do great damage to the city,” he said. “I’d prefer you make an appointment, and I’d prefer you make that appointment today.”
Buffy Casper wanted to know who was interested in applying for the council seat.
“I’d like to hear them speak,” she said, pointing out the public should know who they are, what their concerns are and how they would address the problems facing the city.
Kathleen Campbell, daughter of Solvang’s first mayor, Willi Campbell, said after the recent special council meetings attempting to reach agreement on replacing Duus, she asked herself, “What would Willi have wanted?”
“She would want you to find compromise,” she said. “Appoint Karen Waite and take up (the issue of) protocol again.”
Ed Skytt, a former councilman who chose not to seek re-election in 2016, agreed.
“The time to discuss the protocol was before this came up,” Skytt said. “I agree we should go with the protocol, then set that up for discussion (later). Right now, I feel we need five people on the City Council.”
Focus of division
The protocol that made Waite the designated appointee was adopted in 2009 when council members had trouble agreeing on how to fill an unexpected vacancy.
It calls for the council to offer a vacant seat to the first runner-up in the last election, then, if that person declines, to offer it to the second runner-up if the percentage of votes between the two was 1.5 or less.
Should that process fail, the protocol says the council should call for applications and choose a new council member from that pool.
Richardson and Jamieson wanted to follow the adopted protocol. But Toussaint and Zimmerman did not, with both favoring a call for applicants who would be interviewed in a public session before one was chosen to fill the vacancy.
Barring that process, both favored going to a special election — despite the thousands of dollars in cost — so the public could select the replacement rather than following protocol.
A report to the board from City Manager Brad Vidro underscored how the council was running out of time to either appoint someone or call for a special election.
Under state law, a special election had to be called or an appointment made by Oct. 27, based on the date Duus resigned, or the issue would automatically go to election.
The county isn’t conducting a general election in April 2018, but the city could participate in the June 2018 election at an estimated cost of $6,000 to $7,500, Vidro said in his report.
However, the city could administer its own election, with the help of the Martin-Chapman election consulting service, through either of two methods.
One would be a regular ballot that would involve renting voting machines, hiring polling personnel and using the county to verify signatures.
The other would be a mail-in ballot that would not require voting machines but would add additional costs, including return postage on ballots and use of a ballot counter, with the city clerk verifying the signatures.
Either of those would cost about $28,800 for up to six candidates.