By Victoria Martinez
A decision on filling the vacant Solvang City Council seat has again been postponed after the remaining four council members deadlocked Monday night, Sept. 25, on all options available to them.
The only decision reached after a series of failed 2-2 votes on various motions was to call a special City Council meeting as soon as possible to resume the debate over how to fill the seat vacated by the resignation of Hans Duus, who has moved to Santa Maria.
Duus announced his resignation at the start of the council’s Aug. 28 meeting after saying that he and his wife, Carla, had signed paperwork to lease a condominium in Santa Maria.
City Manager Brad Vidro explained at the Sept. 25 meeting, as he had at the Sept. 11 meeting, that the options available to the council 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 would cost anywhere from $6,000 for a consolidated election with county assistance on June 5, 2018, to $28,800 for a mail-in ballot election run by the city on April 10, 2018.
Of the more than a dozen members of the public who spoke Sept. 25, the majority urged the council members to follow their established protocol.
Karen Waite, who is in line to be appointed to the council as the next runner-up from the 2016 election, said that her experience and the fact that she was thoroughly vetted in last year’s campaign should encourage the council to follow their current protocol.
“I actually am the most qualified to fill this vacancy,” Waite added.
Former councilman Ed Skytt urged the council, as he did Sept. 11, to follow its established protocol to fill the current vacancy and then go back and adjust it as desired.
“You don’t change it [protocol] in the middle of the situation,” Skytt said.
Duus also spoke and presented a petition signed by 241 Solvang residents asking the council to follow their established protocol and appoint Waite to the position.
Of the 4,323 votes cast to elect two people in November 2016, Councilman Ryan Toussaint received 1,318 (30.5 percent); Duus, 1,273 (29.5 percent); and Waite, 1,268 (29.3 percent) — five votes fewer than Duus. Brian Baca finished fourth by receiving 452 votes, or 10.5 percent of the total.
People who opposed following the current protocol questioned the validity of the protocol itself and said the council should take applications to find the best person for the job, rather than a person predetermined more than 10 months ago.
Councilman Neill Zimmerman, who had been greatly in favor of a special election at the Sept. 11 meeting, restated his dislike of the current protocol but pulled back on his desire for a costly special election.
“I’ll stand by saying it’s a horrible policy,” he said.
Zimmerman said that he was leaning toward appointment through application, possibly accepting applications only from members of current city boards and commissions.
A vote to follow the protocol was deadlocked with Councilwoman Joanie Jamieson and Mayor Jim Richardson in favor and Zimmerman and Toussaint dissenting.
The option to accept applications from the public at large was deadlocked with only Toussaint approving and Richardson, Jamieson and Zimmerman dissenting.
After the council failed to reach a decision by majority, Richardson said he would call special meetings until a decision was reached.
A number of people in the audience voiced their displeasure with the council’s lack of action.
“You guys aren’t doing justice to the city,” Duus said emphatically before leaving the council chamber.
“People are looking to the city of Solvang for leadership. Mr. Toussaint, Mr. Zimmerman are not showing leadership. They have their own personal agendas. They are putting the entire city of Solvang in peril,” Skytt stated.
Before moving on to other business, Richardson asked Toussaint whether he would be opposed to following the protocol if the roles had been reversed.
“If Ryan was in third place, I wonder what his position would be?” Richardson asked.
“I know protocol would have been changed if I were in that position,” Toussaint replied.
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.