Op-Ed: Former Solvang Councilman weighs in on options to fill his vacated seat

Hans Duus served on the Solvang City Council from 2008 – 2017.

Contributed by Hans Duus

The city of Solvang is currently facing a situation very similar to one that occurred over 8 years ago.  The situation was a vacancy on the City Council.  It becomes the council’s responsibility to fill a vacancy by one of two methods: appointment or special election.  The situation of a vacancy in 2008 occurred because of the election of a permanent mayor’s position and the elimination of a council position.  The council seat of the individual who won the mayoral position became vacant upon the certification of the election and had to be filled by the newly seated council by appointment.  This became very contentious with the council being deadlocked for a number of regular and specially noticed meetings.  It nearly resulted in an expensive special election that would have left a split council in place for a number of months.  The deadlock was broken when cooler heads finally prevailed and the appointed seat was given to the next runner up in the election, which had lost by a slim margin of 33 votes.

The new council later took up this issue, discussed and debated it in public forum with full transparency, and upheld the democratic process afforded to the council by the “people of Solvang.”  This policy or protocol agreed upon said that if a vacancy were to occur, the council should automatically look back to the last election and offer appointment to the runner up in that election.  While policy or protocol is not law, it is meant to give direction to a future council that finds itself in a similar situation.

On August 28, 2017, a vacancy occurred on the council due to a resignation of a council member.  The last election was held in November 2016, less than a year before.  With two seats up for election, there were four candidates running. The top three candidates finished with a 50 vote, 1.16%, spread between the top vote getter and the runner up.  The people gave mandate to no one.  They stated they would be collectively satisfied with any combination of 2 out of the 3 candidates.

The current council is deadlocked between following protocol and appointing the runner up from the past election, accepting resumes and appointing from various interested applicants, or calling for a special election.  The answer to this debacle is clear.  The automatic appointment of runner-up, Karen Waite, must be made.  If the 2009 protocol is ignored, there will be 1,268 voters who will feel cheated.  This action is very unfair to those who voted in good faith.  A council must never change policies in midstream for political reasons.

Do not listen to the argument that handpicked applicants will be better choices.  How can one really make an informed decision based upon a resume and a 5 minute statement?  Nor is an expensive special election that will take many months to complete.  A delay such as this can lead the council to be deadlocked on other issues that can affect the vital operations of the city and negatively impact the morale of the city’s staff.  This is also an unnecessary expenditure of the “People’s money.”  The money would be much better spent for other purposes that would be of greater benefit to all residents.

Insist that your elected officials of Solvang follow protocol and automatically appoint Karen Waite to the Solvang City Council!  It is the right way and the fair way.