UPDATE: What will Council look for in new member? 50 apply for vacancy

Santa Clarita City Hall
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Nine of them were candidates who finished down the ballot in the November election for Santa Clarita City Council. Others include a retired sheriff’s lieutenant … an ex-FBI agent … a pharmacist … a waiter.

They are among the citizen-applicants who have filed for the vacant seat on the City Council – a list that swelled to 50 by the filing deadline of Friday at 5 p.m.

Who will emerge as the newest member of the city’s governing body? And how will they be judged?

“I would want someone who has done community work … who has volunteered for different committees and non-profits and organizations,’’ said Councilwoman Marsha McLean, one of the four council members who will review the applications and decide who will fill out the two years remaining on Dante Acosta’s former seat.

Acosta stepped down on Dec. 6 to join the state Assembly, and subsequently, the Council decided to employ an appointment process to fill his seat.

The Council will hold a special session, open to the public, on Jan. 17, at which all the applicants will get three minutes to state their cases and buttress their written applications, with their time perhaps extended as council members see fit to ask questions.

With the field so large, the process could spill over into the Council’s regular meeting of Jan. 24. Mayor Cameron Smyth, quoting the late UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, said he wants the Council “to go fast, but don’t hurry.”

Ahead of that Jan. 17 session, Council members were asked by The Signal what questions they might ask … what qualifications they will look for in a potential new colleague.

“I want someone willing to put the time in,’’ said Smyth. “It’s a lot more than just ribbon cuttings and grand openings. It’s important that all the applicants understand that (the job) requires a lot time.

“For me, the overarching criterion is someone who cares about the city and is willing to put in the work.’’

With some big issues on the near horizon — such as how Santa Clarita will develop the nearly 1,000 acres of the Whitaker-Bermite property; how to keep Cemex from beginning mining operations in Soledad Canyon; the continued push for better traffic flow and traffic safety in the city; homelessness – Councilman Bob Kellar pointed to a well-rounded knowledge of city issues as a key.

In his mind, the successful applicant will have to be a Jack (or Jill) of all trades.

“Somebody that has understanding of the city, of government, of local government at this level,’’ he said.

“There’s not a single specific attribute that is the single determining attribute as to who is qualified. I’m looking for someone who is well-rounded (in terms of familiarity with the various city-related issues).”

Being a team player is another factor, he said.

“I’m looking for somebody that has the ability to work effectively with others and be an independent thinker,’’ Kellar said. “I’m not looking for a ‘yes’ person, I’m looking for somebody that can form an independent thought process.’’

McLean agreed.

“I would hope the person would need to have an open mind … would need to be able to look at all sides of an issue, and then hopefully, with some good healthy debate, be able to come to a consensus,’’ she said.

McLean also said that expertise in a particular area would be an asset.

“We each bring our own interests to the job, we’re a very diverse set of people right now, we all have our interests,’’ she said.

“Mine is transportation and traffic and the environment. That’s what makes up a good governmental body – having people with different and diverse opinions.’’

While there figures to be a learning curve, it will also be important for the new member to be able to hit the ground, if not running, at least walking briskly.

“I think someone who’s been involved with the community would have an understanding (of the basic issues) right off the bat,’’ McLean said.

“But then that person would need to learn the deeper ramifications of these things that we are facing.’’

The selection process also comes at a time when the Council has heard criticism about its own diversity, with Acosta’s departure leaving four white members to govern a diverse and multi-ethnic city.

On that issue, members vowed blindness to sex, race, and ethnicity.

“To me, the biggest factor is someone’s love for the city and that they’re willing to put in the work,’’  Smyth said. “If it turns out to be a male or female, a Latino, a member of the African American community, great. But my priority is, who is willing to put in the work?

“I’m excited there’s as large a number of applicants as there is,’’ he added. “I think it represents a broad diversity of the city, from all different neighborhoods and all different degrees of experience. That’s a great start.’’

Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste could not be reached for comment on either Thursday or Friday.

Kellar meanwhile, said, “I am looking for one candidate, irrespective of their nationality, heritage or their sex – that has absolutely no registration with me.’’

“I am looking for the most qualified person, period,’’ Kellar said.

For his part, Smyth said, “What I plan to do over the next week and half is look over the applications. There are some of the people that I know better than others, but I plan to reach out to as many that I don’t know as possible and try to get to know them a little.’’

And, to critics who say that political ties could prove the biggest factor of all, Kellar said that will not be the case.

“Everybody will get a fair shake,” he said.

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