Gridlocked by a series of two-two split motions, a packed council chambers on Monday possibly saw a glimpse into the future of a polarized Oakdale City Council stalemated on controversial agenda voting items if a fifth and deciding member is not appointed.
The discussion centers on the best way to replace the vacant position left by Jason Howard, who resigned last month to take a job in the Grass Valley area.
The council has basically three options according to City Attorney Tom Hallinan. They can make an appointment for the duration of Howard’s two-plus year term, call for a special election for the seat during the upcoming November General Election, or draft an ordinance that allows them to appoint a person and then hold a special election for the seat in the November election.
Hallinan informed the council that the cost of a special election in November was approximately $3,000.
By law, the council has 60 days if it decides to make an appointment. If there is a deadlock, the seat must go up for vote by the citizens in November. With the vacancy the even number of four remains basically for the rest of the year. The clock started ticking on April 16 when Howard made the announcement he was resigning.
Former councilwoman Mickey Peabody addressed the council and reminded them about a similar long-term vacancy from 1994 when she was the third highest vote getter. A seated council member at the time, Pat Kuhn, was elected mayor and the council appointed her to the open position. She felt it gave her an unfair advantage at the next election because she was allowed to run as the incumbent.
Peabody said if the council decides to make an appointment for only the period until the special election, she would be a good choice because she had no intentions of running in November and it would give no one an unfair advantage to run as “incumbent.”
Some citizens spoke in favor of appointing City Treasurer Mike Murray, the third-highest vote getter from the last council election. Murray lost by nine votes in the 2010 election.
Ron Bordona of Oakdale Citizens for Good Government stressed he wanted the council to act quickly and appoint for the long-term. He said Murray was the obvious choice and was backed by his coalition.
“We do not want you to spend another dime more,” said Bordona. “Let’s take away this ‘interim’ title and appoint for the term.”
Others were opposed to Murray’s appointment, citing the city’s financial condition and believing Murray may have some responsibility due to his treasurer status.
“Do not appoint a person who’s been responsible for overseeing city finances,” said Don Barton. “Look at the current problems.”
Debbie Olivera told the council it was not wise to appoint Murray and to have an election. Mike Eggener said he learned that Murray was signing off reports on May 2 that dated back to 2011.(Murray refused; see related story.)
“Third-highest vote getter is just first loser,” said one speaker.
Councilwoman Katherine Morgan stated she supported appointing Murray and said precedence had been set in the past with both Peabody and Rachelle Antinetti in 2004.
“Do not mar someone’s character because we don’t know all the facts,” said Morgan.
The council spent much time discussing the choices of a special election or making an appointment. It was revealed that if they decided to get an ordinance they may not have enough time given the need for drafting, posting, and public readings of the proposed ordinance and then the process of interviewing interested candidates.
“Changing the law and appoint until a special election doesn’t exist,” said Councilman Tom Dunlop. “We have to get off the merry-go-round of 4-5 years and get things fixed.”
“Right now we don’t agree on a process,” countered Mayor Pat Paul.
Dunlop made the motion of appointing someone for the remainder of the term. The motion died without a second.
Morgan made the motion of appointing Murray for the term remainder. Dunlop seconded; however when voted upon, Paul and Councilman Mike Brennan were opposed.
Brennan motioned to have staff draft the ordinance and for the council appoint a person until a special election. Paul supported the motion however Morgan and Dunlop were against it.
“We need to get this done,” said Dunlop. “I’m willing to be here all night.”
Dunlop reminded the panel that he felt they would be putting the city at risk by having three council seats up for election in November given the heavy budget cuts that were looming.
Brennan said he was willing to “bend” and would be in favor of appointing someone for the remainder of the term after interviewing interested applicants.
The motion passed 3-1 with Mayor Paul still opposed.
After discussion, the council arranged for a special meeting Tuesday, May 15 at 6 p.m. to start interviewing candidates.
“I’m no longer interested in two-plus years,” said Peabody after the decision. “Been there, done that. I would have only done it for the short term.”
The council also announced that former Atwater Interim City Manager Stan Feathers would be taking over the part-time city manager duties when current part-time City Manager Greg Wellman’s contract expires in July.