Mayor: Appointment, not election, likely path to filling council vacancy

Santa Clarita City Hall

It hardly qualified as a bold prediction, but Mayor Bob Kellar predicted Wednesday that the Santa Clarita City Council will likely choose to appoint outgoing Councilman Dante Acosta’s successor, rather than call a special election.

“I would be very surprised if we went with a special election,” Kellar said, citing the most recent historical precedent of the council filling a vacancy in its ranks.

Acosta, the mayor pro tem, will be stepping down on Dec. 4, a day before he takes the oath of office as the new Assemblyman for the 38th District. He has two years remaining on his council term, and by law must step down when he joins the Assembly.

The council next meets on Dec. 13, and the succession process is almost certainly going to be on the agenda. Four members, rather than the full council roster of five, will make the determination.

The last time a similar scenario arose was in 2006, when then-Councilman Cameron Smyth won an Assembly seat. The council appointed a citizens panel to sift through applicants for the vacancy, then appointed the panel’s top-ranked choice of TimBen Boydston.

Boydston filled out Smyth’s term and kept his promise to not seek re-election in 2008. But Boydston did win a seat in 2012 before losing a re-election bid last month – finishing third as Kellar won four more years and Smyth recaptured a seat after a 10-year absence.

In an interview Wednesday, Kellar stressed that nothing has been decided about filling the upcoming vacancy – though back in October, the mayor cited cost as one factor favoring an appointment over a special election.

The latter, Kellar said, would cost the city an estimated $175,000 – though City Manager Kenneth Striplin told The Signal that the mayor’s figure was low, because the city has grown dramatically since 2006.

“(The process) will be decided on the dais that night (Dec. 13),’’ Kellar said Wednesday. “We’ll discuss it and make the decision then.”

But while an appointment appears the cheapest and easiest route to filling the seat, critics caution that that could lead to the incumbent members tapping a political ally — thus muzzling dissent and real debate.

One such critic is Alan Ferdman, an also-ran in the recent council election, who confirmed to The Signal that he will throw his hat into the ring for this vacancy, whichever road the council chooses.

But he is wary of the appointment process.

“I doubt seriously whether they’ll select me,’’ Ferdman said. “In the past, what we’ve seen, they’re going to want to look for someone who is going to agree with them. … I would intend to be a very independent voice, and I don’t think that’s what they want.’’

Boydston, who also told The Signal that he will seek the upcoming vacancy, has clashed with other council members during his four years, particularly over long-term development and financial-accountability issues.

Though Boydston finished third in the November voting, when two seats were up, his sometimes contentious history with the current council might prove a roadblock for the next council to anoint him as Acosta’s successor.

Still, at last week’s council meeting, several speakers rose during the public-comments portion to push for Boydston — one saying he would “not be a rubber stamp vote,” while another said, “(council members) should appoint the voters’ choice, not their own.”

Ferdman, in an interview, agreed with that point of view.

“How can they pick someone who finished eighth or ninth on the ballot?” he said.

Mark White, another candidate who finished down the ballot last month, has also said he wants to be considered for the vacancy.

For his part, Kellar insisted the process will aim high — and be without grudge.

 “I know it’s going to be a fair process,’’ Kellar said. “I think I can speak for the other council members as well in saying we will put into place a fair process that is open and above board. Whatever the process is, it will be something that is fair and will best serve the citizens.”

From what he’s heard, Kellar added, it should be a heated battle for the vacant seat.

“From emails, and just from idle talk around town, there seems to be a lot of interest in people applying for the position,” Kellar said.

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