Conflicting special election cost estimates and private lobbying of council members are just two of the lingering questions pertaining to the San Marcos City Council’s decision to appoint a new member for a 2-year term rather than allow voters to decide.
After a final Thursday count, City Clerk Phil Scollick had received 24 – count ’em, 24 — applications in various stages of completion. Applicants ranged from relatively unknown residents to several actively involved in local politics. Many were attorneys, business leaders and school officials along with such luminaries as the San Marcos Planning Comissioner. Fewer candidates actually ran for the three contested council seats and mayor in the November 2018 general election, although some of the losing candidates have filed for the open seat.
Applications must be completed by 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 10. Minimum requirements include being over 18 years old and a registered San Marcos voter. Council candidates are expected to deliver short statements and face questions from San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones and three other council members at an open meeeting starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15 at San Marcos City Hall.
The position is open because Jones failed to resign her seat when she ran for mayor last November. Coincidentally, the last time a council member was appointed to fill a seat vacated by a council member who became mayor, it was Jones who was appointed by then-mayor Jim Desmond in a controversial decision announced just following the 2007 selection interviews.
The pool of nine applicants included many who had spent years on city boards and commissions and others who ran for office in the previous general election. Jones had no political experience although she had worked with Desmond in 2004 to defeat a proposed Wal-Mart at San Elijo Hills.
Desmond said later that he had, in fact, decided on Jones the Sunday night before the meeting. For more on this selection, visit San Marcos council scam dates to 2007.
While the 3-page council application form looks fairly boilerplate in nature, it has its quirks along with ambiguity over who designed it. The first two pages basically represent a resume although the process also requires an actual resume submision. Some people have had trouble printing out the forms.
The third page lists essay questions. These included:
- What activities of the city council are: Most interesting to you? Most challenging to you?
- What city programs/projects would you like to see improved or implemented?
- How would you approach these project(s) or program(s)?
- Please provide information about involvement in any organization or activities that may result in a conflict of interest if you are appointed to the city council?
- Other relevant experience/expertise (sic)
- What is your understanding of the role/responsibility of the city council?
- Have you ever attended a meeting of this city council? If so, how many?
Council members choosing their fellow council member is allowable under California Government Code Section 36512. Council members have 60 days from the day of vacancy to fill the post or call for a special election.
Since Jones was sworn in as mayor, vacating her council seat, on Dec. 11, 2018, council members presumably have until around Feb. 9 to fill the seat or call for an election. An election would have to be held within four months, or by late spring.
Most of the statute involves rules pertaining to the special election indicating the prominency of that selection mode. In fact, only five words — “fill the vacancy by appointment” — in the 909-word statute mentions that form of choice. Otherwise, the statute addresses special elections.
Jones may find her future leverage on some city matters limited by statutory conditions placed on her participation in certain council decisions as a result of how the council vacancy was filled.
The statute says that if a council member resigns, and the council appoints a new member to fill that seat, the resigning council member is prohibited for two years after the new appointment from the following:
- Advocating on any measure or issue coming before the city council in which the city council member may have a personal benefit.
- Entering into a contract of any kind with the city or a city vendor.
- Accepting a position of employment with the city or a city vendor.
- Applying for a permit that is subject to the approval of the city council.
What’s going down?
Palace intrigue and questionable statements about costs for a special election appeared to be the most pressing issues as the council-selecting-council process proceeded this week.
Apparently, council members have been meeting behind closed doors and otherwise holding private conversations with applicants.
Council members Randy Walton and Sharon Jenkins, along with Jones, answered a series of questions posed by The Grapevine.
Council member Maria Nunez said, ” have had several applicants request a meeting with me; however, thus far, I have not had the opportunity to meet with any of them. Given the number of applicants, I doubt I will meet with them prior to January 15, 2019.”
Nunez added: “I would like to see a nonparty affiliated individual who is committed to making decisions in the best interest of the residents of San Marcos.”
Jones acknowledged she had spoken with some applicants, whose names she did not disclose.
“I personally have had many discussions with most all of the applicants,” Jones said, “and will continue to have an open door policy as I have had for the last 12 years serving as council member and then Vice Mayor. My criteria is the time to do the job (I routinely have put in over 30-40 hours a week for the last 12 years), love the city by putting it first in our decisions and a commitment to our community.”
Walton said he had not spoken with other council members about the selections — which is good, since that is prohibited by law — but had spoken with some candidates.
“A few of the applicants who have applied have reached out to me to talk about the position, which I welcome,” Walton said. “My personal criteria for the position is fairly simple: The candidate must live in the city (obviously), and in some way have demonstrated that they genuinely care about the City of San Marcos. Some specific experience in government (city, school, volunteer group, etc.) would be helpful, but not necessary.”
Jenkins said she was not “aware of” any private discussions for the post between council members, or others, adding, “Several potential applicants have reached out to me…My criteria is to review the applications and resumes once they are provided and pick the best candidate on 1/15 for the position. I have no preconceived thoughts at this point.”
Jenkins said council members would be required during the Jan. 15 meeting “to disclose any discussions we had with applicants.” However, Jones and Walton did not say that, so it was unclear if this actually would happen at the meeting.
As for special election costs
Cost estimates for a special election varied depending on who was asked.
Jones initially said a special election would cost $600,000, adding she wanted to save the city that money by foregoing an election. For comparison, the city of San Marcos will spend over $35 million on personnel salaries this fiscal year and routinely processes projects and programs, as well as business development, in the tens of millions of dollars.
“City staff spoke to the San Diego County Registrar Office,” Jones said this week, “and were provided a cost range for a special election, this was not provided by the Mayor or any other council members.” Jones did not specify the cost estimates.
Walton said, “I think it is financially prudent for the city to at least try and appoint someone to fill the remaining two years on Rebecca Jones’ council seat. We have been advised that Carlsbad had a special election in 2016 (with 63K voters) at an approximate cost of $650K, and Poway in 2017 (with 29K voters) at an approximate cost of $408K. Today, San Marcos has approximately 45.5K voters, hence the estimate.”
Jenkins said, “The cost of a special election is much higher than we expected. The Registrar of Voters won’t give staff a firm number.”
Nunez said: ” I believe that it is in the best interest of San Marcos residents to have the Council appoint rather than incur the cost of an at large special election that would likely result in having a candidate elected that would be funded by special interests groups and would have low voter participation.”
Applicants on parade
As of early Wednesday, Jan. 9, the following individuals had filed for the council vacancy, according to the city clerk, in order of application date:
- Dimitris Magemeneas
- Christopher Carroll
- Jay Petrek
- Morgan Christian
- Heather Towsley
- Tomme Arthur
- Rob Gaebe
- Alan Geraci
- Tae Kim
- Eric Flodine
- Shera Sandwell
- Mark Loscher
- Jennifer Stepp
- Victor Graham
- Frank Yakos
- James Pennock
- Houa Vongaschang
- Ariel Otero
- Robert Banks
- Bruce Tait
- Greg Garcia
- William Pashley
- Julia Widman
- Michael Goff