Council may face dilemma if Acosta wins Assembly seat

Dante Acosta

Santa Clarita voters will fill two expiring City Council seats on Nov. 8, but they would also be creating a new vacancy if they elect incumbent Councilman Dante Acosta to the Assembly – and that’s a potential scenario that will hand the council the dilemma of figuring out how to fill that vacancy.

The city could go one of two ways – calling a special election, likely for June 6, 2017, according to City Attorney Joe Montes; or initiating a selection process that would end with a council appointment, a process that has recent historical precedent.

Acosta’s council seat is not one of the two that are expiring – those belong to Mayor Bob Kellar and Councilman TimBen Boydston, who are both seeking another four-year term.

Acosta, a Republican, is running for the 38th Assembly seat against Democrat Christy Smith. If Acosta wins the Assembly seat, he is required by state law to step down from his council seat, which would have two years remaining.

The city went through an identical scenario back in 2006, when then-Councilman Cameron Smyth won a seat on the Assembly. The city opted to go through a selection process, soliciting applications for the empty seat and naming a 15-member committee to evaluate the applicants.

Boydston emerged as the winner in that process, filling out Smyth’s seat two years before stepping down – as he had promised during his application process. He later won a full four-year term in 2012.

Kellar said he would support that process again this year, if Acosta wins an Assembly seat and a council vacancy needs to be filled. He called it “very fair,” and added it would spare the city the cost of holding a special election, which he estimated would run around $175,000.

Boydston, meanwhile, said he was undecided about which route he would favor. But he did warn that in a selection process leading to an appointment, the council majority might be “inclined to pick somebody they can control.”

Boydston indicated he got the job back in 2006 because the council was divided, and because he had promised to step down after two years.

He said it might be too early for the current council to wrestle with the hypothetical Acosta vacancy, but suggested a poll of citizens might clarify whether there should be a special election or an appointment process.

“I’d be very interested in seeing how the people of Santa Clarita feel,” he said. “I’d like to see that polling.”

For his part, Kellar said the screening process leading to an appointment would work best. He also rejected the notion that the council would look to stack the majority with a puppet appointment.

“It really took any form of bias away from the council and left it to the community to make the decision,” Kellar said of the 2006 process. “I like it that way – it was a very fair way.”

It’s not clear whether the council will take up the matter before or after the Nov. 8 election.

City Communications Manager Gail Morgan said it was expected to be on an upcoming council agenda, but she did not know when specifically.

Kellar said he “did not anticipate” the council dealing with the issue until after the general election.

Conceivably, the matter could go before a new City Council without either Kellar or Boydston as a member. Winners of the two expiring seats would be sworn in on Dec. 13.

According to Montes, the city attorney, if a special election were to be called, it’s not yet clear whether the city or the county would conduct it. He said the city could request any such election to be consolidated into county elections, but that matter had not yet been discussed.

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