It took 23 San Marcos City Council candidates over 2 1/2 hours Tuesday night at City Hall to present credentials and answer a handful of questions.
It took Mayor Rebecca Jones, Vice-Mayor Sharon Jenkins and council members Randy Walton and Maria Nunez the governmental equivalent of a New York second, or about five minutes, seemingly to rubber-stamp Escondido Assistant City Manager Jay Petrek as their new colleague.
While each council candidate took five minutes to present, then parry the odd question, San Marcos city leaders seemed to make up their minds on the spot.
“I’m actually blown away by the citizens of San Marcos,” Jones said, citing a “transparent process,” and the need for a new council member who more-or-less knew the ropes. She added: “I think Jay will do very well and be the best fit for the city,” then moved to select Petrek.
Walton followed. He called applicants “a very, very impressive bunch,” adding, he had narrowed his list to four people. “Jay Petrek is on that list,” Walton continued. “Not only has he been an elected official (San Marcos School Board) his knowledge of city government and operations is unparalleled and would be unique for a panel like this.”
That meant go-time as Jones asked if Walton were seconding her appointment motion, which he did. Jenkins immediately supported Petrek saying, “We don’t always have the opportunity to pick someone who serves with us,” adding, “I’ve known Jay for over 20 years. As far as governing, he knows his role as part of the governing team.”
Nunez said, “This is very humbling for me. I’m very proud that we’ve been transparent with this application process.”
Meet the new boss
With that, the “transparent” process was over. Mayor and council voted 4-0 to add Petrek as their fifth member with an at-large term running through the end of 2020. Petrek immediately was sworn into office and assumed a seat on the dais that miraculously had sprouted his name tag in front.
“I am so honored to be a part of this,” Petrek said after being sworn into his new job that pays just over $11,000 annually for what Jones, and a supplemental candidate questionnaire, said was over 36/40 hours of work weekly. However, past accounting including additional benefits like a $3,600 car allowance, health insurance and pension contributions typically added $14,000 to $28,000 annually to compensation, depending on individual circumstances.
“I will not be running (again) in two years,” Petrek continued. “Thank you very much council and community.”
Petrek has been assistant city manager at Escondido since 2016 and earns just over $164,000 annually along with significant city benefits.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Petrek said he didn’t foresee any conflict of interest in being a city official in the adjoining cities of Escondido and San Marcos.
Escondido city attorneys told him there would be no conflict of interest, Petrek said. San Marcos City Attorney Helen Holmes Peak agreed with that while noting fire districts “overlapped a bit” between Escondido and San Marcos although that didn’t seem to present any difficulties. Otherwise, Holmes Peak indicated any future conflicts could be taken up if they arose.
Into the good night
As Petrek drifted into the good night noting he was eager to start within a week working with a variety of issues, an afterglow lingered in city council chambers.
Rejected applicants appeared split in how they viewed the process.
Some said they thought it was a great idea to choose a person with experience who could jump right into the role. Others questioned how the vote took so short amount of time without any candidate aside from Petrek even being discussed.
“It was very transparent,” applicant Dimitris Magemeneas, a financial asset manager, said after the meeting. “You have to go with the person with the most experience.”
Applicant Tae Kim, San Marcos United Methodist Church senior pastor, said, “Somehow I find it impossible after going for hours, it should be ending just like that.”
More of the same
The coveted seat opened up Dec. 11 when Jones was sworn in as mayor. Coincidentally, the last time council members chose a new colleague, Jones was on the receiving end of the seat. That was 2007 when Jim Desmond was elected mayor and nine candidates appeared before council members at an open selection meeting. Desmond was the deciding vote, later admitting he had made up his mind before the meeting.
This time, despite talk of transparency, many council candidates met privately with, or otherwise were in private contact with, candidates.
Jones said nine of the 23 finalists had spoken with her prior to the meeting about the position. Petrek was one of them. However, she didn’t specify what they discussed.
Before the meeting, Jenkins said council members had to disclose discussions, adding that some candidates had reached out to her. However, she didn’t say anything about that outreach during Tuesday’s open session.
Before the meeting, Walton also said he had been in private discussions with some candidates. He said nothing about that during the meeting. Nunez didn’t disclose any candidate meetings at the open council session, but previously said she had not had an opportunity to meet with candidates who had reached out to her.
The meeting interview process itself had a reality TV feel to it, as 19 men and four women vied for the job.
Qualifications and interests varied greatly, seemingly presenting a cross-section of civic experiences in this growing city of over 93,000 souls located at the crossroads of Inland North County San Diego and the State Route 78 corridor, referred to by applicant Tomme Arthur, Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey co-founder and CEO, as “The Hops Highway.”
Applicants included well-known, or former, leaders like Alan Geraci, who lost the 2018 State Assembly race to Marie Waldron but won big in San Marcos and Escondido and Mark Loscher, a San Marcos councilman from 1986 to 1994, who moved back to the city late last year. When asked by Jenkins if he would pledge to serve out his term and not run for another office, Geraci said yes.
Applicants each filled out extensive city questionnaires and included resumes that were attached to the agenda found here.
Otherwise, it remains to be seen if the selection process resonates with city residents in the future and what will come from it.