San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones and the San Marcos city council may be taking a curious approach to Tuesday’s city council member election. While most elections feature a few candidates and lots of voters, Jones and council have twisted that fact into an inverted pretzel.
Do the math. At 6 pm. Tuesday, more than eight times the usual number of candidates for council possibly will be voted on by approximately .000141843971631 percent of city voters.
Some 24 San Marcos citizens applied for an city council seat vacated by Jones when she became mayor on Dec. 11, 2018. Four people are trying to choose Jones’ successor — Jones, Vice-Mayor Sharon Jenkins, and fellow council members Randy Walton and Maria Nunez.
This is believed to be the third time since the city was incorporated in 1963 that seated council members may choose a new member rather than schedule a special election.
Last time it happened was in 2007 when Jones gained her first council seat due to a controversial 2-1 vote with longtime ally Jim Desmond casting the deciding vote. Jones and eight more experienced candidates gave presentations. Desmond and fellow Councilman Hal Martin voted for Jones. Mike Preston voted against. However, Desmond later said he decided on his vote several days before the meeting.
The major reason for not allowing city voters to choose their own representative is cost. However, nobody has been able to assign an accurate cost with estimates ranging from $400,000 to $600,000. The San Diego County Registrar of Voters decides the cost and has not provided any figures.
Weigh that cost versus the fact the city of San Marcos employs 35 individuals for annual salaries of $109,000 and more, not including numerous benefits. City Council members make decisions concerning projects and programs in the multi-millions of dollars range.
To be fair, it’s not too late to end this dog-and-pony process and let some of the city’s 30,000 registered viters have a go at picking their representation for taxation and other concerns like traffic, safety and housing issues.
For the record, the state statute allowing city councils to choose new members contains 909 words, of which only five relate to not calling a special election. The meeting agenda includes information pertaining to choosing the special election option.
Here’s how it kinda works
Tuesday’s interview process is unclear with a few differing statements from city officials all the public can rely on until tonight (and will be updated here pertaining to new events.)
The agenda says:
1. CITY COUNCIL VACANCY
Recommendation: INTERVIEW applicants and, if desired, APPOINT one person to fill a vacated City Council seat pursuant to Government Code section 36512.
B. PUBLIC COMMENT – Please complete a “Request to Speak” form and place in basket provided.C. COUNCIL DISCUSSION, CONSIDERATION OF APPOINTMENT, AND ACTION AS DESIRED.
No mention of what shape the interviews take.
The 24 candidates come from a few general categories. Some already are city officials. Others serve on planning boards and city committees. Several are real estate agents, retirees or school board members. Several are involved in small business or with non-profits.and a few are involved in land planning and technical professions.
Many of the candidates have been campaigning privately with council members behind closed doors. Only Nunez said she hadn’t met with any, not that she wouldn’t want to, just too busy. Only Townsend said council members would be required to recount what they discussed in private during the open council sessions.
The process, according to the agenda:
“All the individuals have been invited to attend the special meeting where the City Council will interview candidates separately and each applicant will have the opportunity to present their qualifications and discuss their candidacy with the City Council during this public meeting.
After the interviews have been conducted the city council will have the opportunity to discuss the candidates’ qualifications and make a decision regarding an appointment. The City Council may make a decision at this special meeting or may direct staff to place the matter on the January 22, 2019 City Council agenda.”
Applicants each filled out city questionnaires, which can be found on the city web site.
The agenda also spells out the process for a special election:
“The other method for filling the vacated Council seat would be by calling a special election. If the Council does not call an election or make an appointment by February 9, 2019, pursuant to the Government Code the vacancy will be filled at the next regularly-established election. If the City Council desires to pursue this process, City staff would work with the County Registrar of Voters (Registrar) to schedule an election on the next regularly-established election date. Staff would then bring back for City Council approval resolutions to call the election and consolidate with a state-wide election on the applicable state-wide election date.
Staff had previously estimated that the cost of a special election would like be in the $550,000 to $600,000 range and possibly even higher.”
Applicants, in order of filing, included:
- 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.