The Solvang City Council will again discuss procedures for filling a vacancy after Councilman Ryan Toussaint was elected mayor in the Nov. 6 General Election, based on unofficial preliminary results.
The council meeting, which was moved to Tuesday due to Veterans Day falling on its regular Monday meeting day, is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. in the council chambers of City Hall at 1644 Oak St.
A staff report from City Manager Brad Vidro says the council could use any of three options for choosing Toussaint’s replacement.
But at this point it’s unclear whether council members will agree on one of those methods and the process will go forward smoothly, or if the controversy that dragged out the process for more than a month last year will return.
It’s possible the council could end up squabbling over the process until two new members are seated in December, then try to make a decision.
Last year council members faced a 60-day deadline. As of Tuesday, they will have 81 days to decide.
Filling a vacancy erupted into controversy in September 2017 after Hans Duus resigned from the council the month before because he had moved out of the city.
At that time, Solvang had a protocol for filling an unexpected vacancy that was adopted in 2009 after the council suffered through a contentious process of replacing a member.
The protocol called for offering the seat to the first runner-up in the last election, and if that person accepted, the council would appoint him or her to fill the vacancy.
But if that person declined, the offer would go to the second runner-up — if the difference in the number of votes received by that person was within 1.5 percentage points, although it was never clear if that meant of the votes received by the first runner-up or of the votes received by the candidate who won.
Under that protocol, the seat vacated by Duus would have been offered to Karen Waite, who said she wanted the appointment.
But even before a decision had been made on offering the seat to Waite, community members who also wanted it — but hadn’t run for the council in the 2016 election — were turning in applications for appointment.
At the first meeting to consider a replacement, members of the public questioned the process established by protocol, and the council itself was split on whether the protocol should be followed.
Mayor Jim Richardson and Councilwoman Joan Jamieson — who were both voted out of office last Tuesday — favored following protocol.
Councilmen Ryan Toussaint, who was elected mayor Tuesday, and Neill Zimmerman, who chose not to seek re-election this year, both favored holding a special election, even though it could cost the city from $19,000 to $30,000 to do so.
Although no longer on the council, Duus weighed in from the audience to support following protocol and appointing Waite.
At that meeting, four motions — to follow the protocol, reject the protocol, hold a special election and call for applications from the public — each ended in 2-2 deadlock votes.
In fact, the only agreement the council could reach on the issue was to table it until the following meeting.
But waiting two weeks didn’t make any difference — the council was still split, although Toussaint and Zimmerman were more inclined to take applications from the public and make an appointment from that pool.
The result was that four motions died for lack of a second, two resulted in 2-2 deadlocks and one failed on a 1-3 vote.
That prompted both Duus and former Councilman Edwin Skytt, who chose not to seek re-election in the November 2016 voting, to blast the council for “playing games” and “jeopardizing the city.”
Richardson said he would call a special meeting each week until the state-mandated deadline — 60 days after the seat became vacant — was reached, but council members couldn’t even agree on when to hold the first special meeting.
Finally, in a special Friday night meeting the first week of October, the council voted 3-0-1, with Zimmerman abstaining, to appoint Waite to fill the seat until the next General Election.
Last Tuesday, the public elected Waite to serve out the remaining two years of Duus’s four-year term, choosing her over Skytt.
But after the debacle over replacing Duus, the council reviewed the city’s various protocols and eventually voted to remove the process for filling a vacancy by offering it to the runners-up.
That doesn’t mean that process is off the table, however, as it’s one of the possible methods listed in Vidro’s staff report.
The other two are calling for applications from the public and choosing from that pool, or holding a special election at a cost estimated to range from $19,000 to $30,000.
If the council decides to offer the seat to the first runner-up, another question arises: Would that be the first runner-up to Toussaint, which would be Richardson, who he beat out for mayor; or, since Toussaint's term has two years left, would it be Skytt, who Waite beat out for the two years remaining on her seat; or would it be Jamieson, who was beat out of her bid for re-election by Robert Clarke and Niels “Chris” Djernaes?
Since the vacancy hasn’t actually occurred yet, council members have a little extra breathing room to decide what to do.
But if the county clerk certifies the election results by Dec. 6 as state law requires, then Waite, Clarke and Djernaes will likely be sworn in Dec. 10.
And if the council hasn’t agreed on a process at that point, the state’s 60-day clock will start ticking.