Solvang City Council deadlocks on vacancy

SYV Star Staff

A decision on filling the vacant Solvang City Council seat has been postponed after the remaining four council members deadlocked, with 2-2 votes, on all three options available to them.

Councilman Hans Duus announced his resignation at the start of the council’s Aug. 28 meeting after saying he and his wife, Carla, had signed paperwork to lease a condo in Santa Maria.

The council was advised on the options available to them to fill the vacancy at the Sept. 11 meeting and heard numerous opinions from the public.

City Manager Brad Vidro explained that the options included appointing the person who got the next highest number of votes in the 2016 election, which is the council’s previously approved protocol; taking applications for an appointment; or holding a special election, which is typically an expensive alternative.

Former Councilman Ed Skytt noted at the meeting that a similar situation happened in 2008 when Mayor Jim Richardson was elected to his first mayoral term and his council seat became vacant.

“At that time there was a very contentious discussion on the issue of filling the vacancy created … after several votes the matter was settled by a vote of 3 to 1 to offer the position to the first runner-up in the general election. It was at this time the city established the standard that in the future if a similar situation arose that we would offer the position to the first runner-up. If that individual declined the position, then and only then, would the council accept applications from the public at large,” Skytt wrote.

“We aren’t supposed to change the protocols every time something comes up that we don’t like,” Skytt told the council.

People against following the current protocol argued that the seat should be filled through what they considered a more democratic and transparent process.

“Repealing the current protocol in favor of a more democratic and transparent selection process will expand the pool of candidates and improve the likelihood of selecting the best candidate with the strongest professional expertise, experience and temperament,” wrote Solvang resident Chris Djernaes.

Councilman Neill Zimmerman said this was a horrible policy and opposed the current protocol in favor of a special election.

A vote to follow the protocol was deadlocked with Councilwoman Joanie Jamieson and Richardson in favor and Zimmerman and Councilman Ryan Toussaint dissenting.

The option to accept applications was deadlocked with Jamieson and Toussaint approving and Richardson and Zimmerman dissenting.

“This is not an appointed seat. This is an elected position,” Zimmerman said.

The motion to call a special election also failed with Toussaint and Zimmerman approving and Jamieson and Richardson dissenting. The costs of holding a special election are projected to be between $20,000 and $30,000, according to Vidro.

Because of the lack of a decision, the item was postponed to the next council meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 25, at City Hall.

By law, if the council doesn’t reach a majority decision on one of the options within 60 days from the time Duus resigned, the issue must go to a special election.

What do you think the Solvang City Council should do to fill the vacancy left by Hans Duus? Take our survey here to voice your opinion or visit www.santaynezvalleystar.com and scroll to the bottom of the homepage.