Want to sit on City Council? Act fast, talk faster

City of Santa Clarita City Hall

Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg address — a concise 272 words — in just under three minutes. Those interested in the vacant seat on the Santa Clarita City Council, take note.

Three minutes, give or take, will be the time allotted to each interested Santa Clarita resident to make his or her “campaign speech” before the City Council to fill the body’s vacant seat after the council decided on Tuesday night to pursue an appointment process, rather than call a special election.

The vacancy exists because former Councilman Dante Acosta resigned on Dec. 4 to ascend to the state Assembly.

The council faced two choices to fill the vacancy – an appointment process or calling a special election. Despite multiple calls from public speakers during the council’s meeting Tuesday to call a special election, the members opted to begin an appointment process.

By a pair of 4-0 votes, the council first decided to choose to appoint Acosta’s successor, and then to begin accepting applications for the vacant seat beginning this Thursday, through the close of business on Friday, Jan. 6.

The council further decided to call a special meeting on Jan. 17, at which the applicants would come before the council to make their cases to fill out the two years remaining on Acosta’s term.

That’s when those interested will get their three minutes.

Which raises the questions: Is that enough time? Can candidates for such an important position be sufficiently vetted in about the time it takes to boil an egg?

Yes, said newly appointed mayor Cameron Smyth, who pushed for the plan on Tuesday night.

“Beyond the three minutes, the council has the opportunity to ask questions,’’ Smyth told The Signal on Wednesday. “It can certainly go beyond that.’’

Smyth also said council members could review individuals and their qualifications before that Jan. 17 meeting — though members could not discuss the matter among themselves, per the state’s Brown law.

Yes, said newly appointed mayor pro tem Laurene Weste.

“I think it becomes clear who’s really serious, who’s got specific things they want, specific skills,’’ Weste said Wednesday. “That becomes clear very quickly.”

No, said former Councilman TimBen Boydston, who lost his re-election bid last month but plans to throw hit hat into the ring for the Acosta vacancy.

“If that is the sum total, if that’s going to be the process, if it’s based on a three-minute interview with the council and a few follow-up questions, I don’t think that’s a very thorough process,’’ Boydston said.

“However, if there’s an extensive application form, with a resume and a chance for the council to look at a person’s qualifications, I think that would be better. But I do not believe the people of Santa Clarita will be well served if the process is so abbreviated.’’

Smyth indicated that the application form will be similar to that of commission applications, which he called “pretty basic,” consisting of biographical info and three letters of recommendation.

Asked if a resume would be required, Smyth said, “It’s up to them – it can be as extensive or as minimal as they wish.’’

Smyth said that, for him, the most important elements of the plan adopted Tuesday night are speed – the council is up against a Feb. 2 deadline to fill the seat – and transparency.

“It’s important to be done in a public venue,’’ he said. “And because we have kind of a time crunch, it’s important that we move quickly.”

In 2006, the last time a council appointment was made, a citizens review panel conducted extensive interviews with applicants, then sent its findings to the council for final appointment.

With the holidays at hand, and facing that Feb. 2 deadline, Smyth said that such a 2006-type process would be too much to squeeze into too little time.

Moreover, Smyth said, “I think it really is the job of the council to make the decision — because we are ultimately accountable. We were elected to make decisions for the city.’’

Smyth acknowledged that the Jan. 17 meeting could become lengthy and somewhat unwieldy, and said the council left it open to continue its evaluation process on Jan. 24, its next scheduled regular meeting.

“It’s why I think we should have a separate council meeting (on Jan. 17), so we have the opportunity to give it a full hearing without other business being pushed aside or crunched for time,’’ Smyth said. “If we have to break this up (to Jan. 24), we have some time built in to still meet that Feb. 2 deadline.’’

A special election would have cost an estimated $354,000, according to a report from the City Manager’s office.

Besides the cost of a special election, council members cited the time that the council would be at four members, rather than the full roster of five, as a reason to avoid a special election and choose the appointment path.

If a special election had been called, the earliest time that such an election could be held would be June 6, according to Michael Murphy of the city’s intergovernmental relations office.

“It’s not as though an appointment is a foreign concept,’’ Smyth said. “The timeline really is important. Operating for six months without a full council (is too long).’’

Councilman Bob Kellar agreed.

“Four people on City Council is a very difficult situation,’’ he said. “I shudder to think that we would try to go basically six months (with four council members, if a special election were to be held).”

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