Jeff Preach, a newly sworn-in member of the Castaic Area Town Council, called it “a back-door coup.”
John Kunak, another Council member, said it was nothing of the sort, that it was just the board filling an open seat that nobody ran for – a circumstance, he said, that is not specifically covered in the Council’s bylaws.
Sandia Ennis, the Council’s president, said the same thing.
“It” was the appointment of Jim D’Addario to a seat on the 10-member Council, a move that became official on Wednesday night when D’Addario and four other members took the oath of office for four-year terms.
D’Addario, a former board member now returned to the Council, holds one of the body’s two seats from “Region V.’’
The Council, consisting of five regions, each with two members, has no official power, but rather serves as an advisory board to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
In November, one seat on each of the Council’s regions was expiring, but interest in the election was minimal. Only one person ran in Districts I, II, III and IV – and nobody ran for the expiring seat in District V.
That was the ignition for all the subsequent intrigue.
“There’s nothing in our bylaws to cover that specific situation,’’ said Kunak. “We have things for vacancies, recalls, resignations, but there was nothing covering the exact situation where no one ran.’’
Indeed, the closest the bylaws come to addressing the situation is in the section covering vacancies, saying, “if the remainder of the term of office is more than (1) one year … (the Council) will activate and notify the Election Committee to conduct a Special Election in the Region the vacancy has occurred.”
But in this case, Kunak said, “It’s not a vacancy, it’s a seat for which there was not a candidate.’’
What to do?
As Kunak tells it, D’Addario had made it known to Council members before the November election that, if nobody stepped up to run for the District V seat, he would accept it.
And as Ennis tells it, when, in fact, nobody did step up prior to the election, D’Addario followed up on his promise to fill the void – filing a formal application and paying a $50 application fee.
Ennis also said that, after D’Addario filed his paperwork and paid his fee in November, two other parties stepped up to express possible interest in the seat during the Council’s November meeting. But, she said, they never filed paperwork or paid a fee.
For his part, former member Flo Lawrence said those other people were never told at that meeting they would have to file papers.
“We just told them, ‘Thanks for coming, we’ll get back to you,’ ’’ he said. But, he added, no one ever did.
Lawrence also said that two other residents, after that November meeting, had also casually expressed interest in the seat.
Nothing else happened regarding the matter until Jan. 4, when the Council held a planning meeting and, in closed session, approved a motion “to contact Jim D’Addario to see if he is still interested. If so, he will be appointed.”
That was the “back-door coup” Preach spoke about.
Preach, another former Council member now newly returned to Region IV, said he was excluded from that closed session because he was not yet a member. But in an interview Thursday, he said he would have spoken up in favor of holding a special election for the open Region V seat.
“Once you realize there’s a vacancy, you hold a special election and you fill it — or you get in a back room and you appoint somebody. When I asked (Council treasurer) Lloyd Carder, he said (a special election would cost) $300-$400, and it’s too much.’’
Preach added: “It was a mess, I wish they would have handled it better. It’s not a deal breaker, but I don’t like it.”
“I did agree with Flo Lawrence. He (Lawrence) read the bylaws (aloud at this past Wednesday’s meeting), and I don’t think they have the right to do that, not to have a public vote. … It’s not in the bylaws, and it shouldn’t have happened, and I agree with him.’’
In an interview, Lawrence said he agreed that a special election should have been called, but added, “I don’t think Sandia (Ennis) did any back-room deal, I think she just wanted to find the easiest solution. I don’t believe there was any mal-intent.”
Said Ennis: “The bylaws don’t address the open seat … so we called for volunteers. …. We were dark in December (meaning, the Council did not meet that month), and so we called a special meeting (in January. And since Mr. D’Addario was the first to respond, we proceeded from there.’’
For his part, Kunak said he spoke up at the Jan. 4 planning meeting, saying the Council should reach out to the other interested applicants, whether they had filed paperwork or not.
“We should meet these people, take a vote on it,’’ Kunak quoted himself as saying.
“But the president (Ennis), she said I’ve been in contact with Mr. D’Addario, he had told me prior to the potential late-filing candidates, told us if no one was running for the seat, he would ‘run for’ the seat, which basically means take the seat.’’
At that Jan. 4 closed session, the Council voted 8-0 to reach out to D’Addario regarding an appointment – including Kunak, despite his earlier objections.
“Once I was informed Mr. D’Addario had stepped up before the election, then I was not uncomfortable with him becoming the Council member,” Kunak said.
Kunak on Thursday also said that, other than Lawrence, now a former member, speaking briefly on the topic at Wednesday’s meeting, “nobody else (at the meeting) cared — it’s a non-issue, everybody’s pleased with the new council.’’
“The two people who might have had reason to talk to us were not there,’’ Kunak said.
D’Addario could not be reached for comment.