When the Santa Clarita City Council on Tuesday night called, basically, for open auditions to be held at City Hall on Jan. 17 to fill the body’s vacant seat, Mayor Cameron Smyth cited “a time crunch” as a big reason to avoid calling a citizen panel to pre-evaluate interested candidates and present findings to the council for final appointment.
But one member of a citizens advisory committee that was convened 10 years ago to fill a council vacancy told The Signal on Thursday that there is, indeed, plenty of time to call such a winnowing panel this year – and that the open-call process the council has chosen this time around leaves the city open to a “less thorough” evaluation of aspirants.
Alan Ferdman, a Canyon Country civic activist who ran for City Council in the November election but finished down the ballot, said he was one of 16 citizens convened in 2006 to evaluate candidates to fill the seat left open when Smyth quit the council to join the state Assembly. Smyth has since rejoined the council, winning a seat in November.
Ferdman said that, in 2006, the 16 members of the citizens advisory committee did all their interviews in just one day before sending their ranked evaluations to the council for final appointment.
“It (the entire evaluation process) all occurred on the same day, no more than an afternoon or morning, I don’t recall which,” said Ferdman – who plans to throw his hat into the ring again for this vacant seat.
“If there’s no committee, this is less thorough than it was 10 years ago,’’ Ferdman said.
This year, in deciding on the process to fill the seat vacated when Dante Acosta ascended to the state Assembly, the council ditched that pre-evaluation committee – instead calling for a special council meeting to be held on Jan. 17. At that meeting, any eligible Santa Clarita citizen who has applied can come before the council and be given three minutes to state his or her case for the vacant seat.
It’s a process that even Smyth, on Wednesday, acknowledged could become lengthy and unwieldy, perhaps stretching into the council’s regular Jan 24 meeting.
Applications were available starting Thursday, through Jan. 6.
Smyth also told The Signal that, for him, the most important reason to avoid the citizens evaluation committee this year was speed – as the council is up against a Feb. 2 deadline to fill the seat.
“Because we have kind of a time crunch, it’s important that we move quickly,” Smyth said.
But Ferdman said the “time crunch” is not so stringent that it would prevent the council from calling an advisory committee again this year – winnowing the process for the council, and also avoiding a potentially chaotic scene at City Hall on Jan. 17, if a large number of aspirants show up and demand their three minutes.
“You certainly could call a panel this time,” Ferdman said. “They (the council) want to meet on Jan. 17 and the applications close on Jan. 6 – and certainly between the 6th and he 17th they could have a panel together. It depends on how the panel gets selected.’’
During Tuesday night’s meeting, when the council decided on the appointment route over calling a special election, numerous public speakers called for the latter, suggesting backroom dealing would be at play in any appointment process.
Ferdman, on Thursday, also said of a potential advisory panel this time around, “If it’s a real cross section of the city, that would be a good idea. But if’s targeted toward one person, I don’t think it would make any difference.’’
He said the 2006 process consisted of the 16 panel members being divided into three groups, with each of the aspirants rotating through the groups. Each group asked each contender questions they had devised, then voted and passed their evaluations on to the council.
Panel members were chosen by then-City Manager Ken Pulskamp after word was spread that a panel was being created.
According to Michael Murphy of the city’s office of intergovernmental relations, panel members were chosen from “a wide variety of interests,” ranging from the Chamber of Commerce, to the Boys and Girls Club, to the Jaycees, to the Hispanic Chamber to The Signal’s then-publisher, among others.
Still, Ferdman said he got the indication 10 years ago that the advisory committee could have been more diverse, reflecting different aspects and areas of the city – and that, to him, it seemed stacked in favor of one candidate, Bob Spierer, a former Santa Clarita Sheriff’s captain.
Spierer got the most votes from the panel but did not get the vacant seat — as council members could not reach a consensus on him.
Eventually, compromise candidate TimBen Boydston got the job after agreeing not to seek election as an incumbent in 2008.
“Now for the council to say they want to open this up to anybody, it sounds like they have somebody in mind,’’ Ferdman said. “It sounds like we’re not really in an open process, but I’m going to apply anyway.
“If they really were concerned with the democratic process, they should have just picked the third vote-getter (in the November election, which was Boydston).
Regarding this year’s process, Kellar said he would have preferred a citizens panel once again.
“(This) was not my way to go, but we’re still moving ahead in a responsible manner,” Kellar told The Signal on Thursday.
To obtain an application for the vacant council seat, those interested can contact the City Clerk’s Office at (661) 255-4391 or visit santa-clarita.com/city-hall/city-council.