OCEANSIDE — Earlier this month, council gave staff orders to come up with an official process to appoint replacements to elected positions that become vacant before their terms expire.
Ryan Keim and Chris Rodriguez were the two council members who proposed to give staff the direction to come up with a standard appointment process for elected officials, something that the city currently lacks. Keim himself was appointed to fill a council seat left vacant from the 2018 elections after two incumbents — Councilwoman Esther Sanchez and then-Councilman Chuck Lowery — faced each other in the city’s new district elections.
Keim previously served as an Oceanside police officer and a spokesman for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
According to Keim, the city of Oceanside could stand to improve its communication and transparency with the public.
“We’re directing staff to look at a process that’s transparent and can be repeated in policy and inspire confidence when the next opening happens,” Keim said.
Oceanside resident Arleen Hammerschmidt thanked Keim for bringing the issue of appointment forward. Hammerschmidt has been outspoken about the number of appointed officials the city has as well as its lack of a uniform appointment process.
Hammerschmidt said the public needs to be involved in the appointment process.
“If a council seat is filled without an election, then the appointing body which is the City Council should, as a representative of the public, appoint only after soliciting and paying attention to public input,” Hammerschmidt said. “Past procedures prevented any public input. The process didn’t involve the citizens being represented by the appointed person nor show that the existing council cares about what citizens think.”
Hammerschmidt pointed out other flaws in previous appointments, including short time frames, lack of public input opportunities, no application form, no consistent public reporting obtained from council members’ interviews with candidates and no explanations as to why council members chose who they did.
“It was a lack of a standard, open and transparent process, and that diminishes public confidence and leaves public convinced that cronyism is at work,” Hammerschmidt said. “What’s needed is a standard, open and transparent process for filling such vacancies with public fully integrated throughout the process.”
Hammerschmidt also believes there shouldn’t be more than one appointed official on City Council. Before Keim, who was appointed to City Council earlier in January, Mayor Peter Weiss was appointed to his role in early 2018.
Sanchez recommended that an election be required if the mayor’s seat becomes vacant with more than two years left in a term, explaining that Weiss’s appointment should have been handled that way.
“State law seems to favor treating the mayor’s race separately when there’s a vacancy, and really recommends holding an election if there are more than two years left on that vacancy,” she said. “We had three years.”
Though not a member of council, City Clerk Zeb Navarro was also appointed to his position earlier this year.
Other council members also emphasized the need for better transparency.
“We want more public transparency, we want more public trust,” Rodriguez said.
Samantha Taylor covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son