ENCINITAS — The City Council voted 3-2, with Council members Teresa Barth and James Bond opposed, to tweak its mayoral selection process Feb. 15.Rather than put the question to the voters, as motioned by Bond, the council majority chose a system in which the person receiving the highest number of votes during their election would be appointed mayor for a two-year term. The mayor would in turn select the deputy mayor.
The current practice of rotating each year, with the mayor and deputy mayor selected by a majority vote of the council has become contentious. When Barth was not selected as mayor last December, a large crowd in the audience stood and turned their backs to the dais in silent protest.
Mayor Jerome Stocks invited the Mayor of Lemon Grove, Mary Sesson, who is one of 15 elected mayors in San Diego County cities, to offer her experience.
“I certainly can’t say what’s best for Encinitas,” she said. In 1994, Lemon Grove put the question to the public to decide whether it wanted an elected mayor, and for what amount of time the person should serve.
Initially, it was a two-year term but changed to four years in 2000.
“For us it works beautifully, I hesitate to weigh in too heavily,” Sesson said.
Solana Beach and Del Mar are the only other municipalities whose residents do not directly elect a mayor.
The public speakers were divided in how to proceed, but most agreed that the current system was too political.
“We’re a passionate community and that is a good thing, we really care,” said Carolyn Cope. “I don’t think you guys play fair,” she told the council, referring to past votes that excluded Barth as deputy mayor or mayor. She said it was time for the citizens to have a say in who would lead the council.
Cope supported selecting the mayor based on the person with the highest number of votes in an election with the caveat that it be an incumbent. “Please do the right thing this time,” she urged the council.
Tony Kranz said he wished the issue had been discussed earlier in Barth’s tenure. “It’s time to move on, it’s time to put it in front of the voters.”
He suggested the question be put to the voters to decide whether it wants a codified rotational mayor system or a directly elected mayor.
According to City Clerk Deborah Cervone, the cost to place a single question on the November 2012 ballot is between $17,000 and $20,000. “So we’re looking at a $40,000 question,” Stocks said.
“I don’t like the annual rotation, I really don’t,” Stocks said. “Frankly it should be the voters that select us.”
He said the current system is not working. “It’s not elegant and it’s not predictable and it’s not based on public (input).”
Sheila Cameron, a former council member who served as mayor said the rotational process could work and noted that a ballot measure was too costly.
Newly appointed council member Mark Muir initially supported Bond’s motion to put the question on a ballot but ended up voting for the modified rotational system. “For me it’s more about representing the will of the people,” he said.
Bond disagreed. “I think no matter what we do you folks ought a pick ‘em,” he said referring to the public.
“I kind of feel like I’m in the twilight zone,” Barth said. December 2011 marked the third time Barth has been passed over for the leadership positions. Despite the rotational process of each council member moving to the next seat until they reach the Deputy Mayor and then Mayor’s spot, Barth, now in her second term in office, has yet to receive enough council votes to serve in either capacity.
She pointed to the times the council majority has passed her over in the rotation. She said the system of choosing the positions wasn’t necessarily “broken” but that it depended on “professional courtesy and being civil.”
“What happened didn’t make me look bad, it made my colleagues look bad,” she said. She supported a codified rotation. “There’s no reason why we have to make this a bigger issue than it is,” she said.