The Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency voted Tuesday to appoint a new director to the seat vacated by Dan Mortensen, the former director for District 3 who resigned after being convicted earlier this month of spousal battery.
The vote comes on the same day Mortensen, a Newhall-based tax attorney who has served on local water boards since he was first elected in 2007, was sentenced to 52 weeks of domestic violence classes, $1,000 to be given to a domestic violence shelter plus court fines and fees, an alcohol program, a court protective order and 20 days of community labor.
The board’s legal counsel Joe Byrne laid out essentially three options: whether to appoint the seat, to dissolve the seat or to hold an election in November.
While a handful of the directors sided with the idea of an appointment, some stated that they would wish to dissolve the seat as the number of seats on the board are set to shrink already in November (two of the District 3 seats are up for re-election this cycle, and that number is being cut down to one).
Director Lynne Plambeck challenged that the Republicans on the board were attempting to hold an appointment as they hold the majority of the board seats and would give their choice an incumbent advantage heading into November. The directors challenged by Plambeck stated that the appointment was designed to be non-partisan, and an appointment process would provide the public with more awareness about the actions of the board.
In the past, Byrne said that the seats when someone has stepped down have generally been eliminated, but there had been some instances on past water boards where an appointment was made.
Ultimately, the board decided to shoot down a possible amended motion to dissolve the seat and voted to make an appointment for the seat, planning to discuss that process in future meetings.
A handful of SCV Water Agency directors expressed their continued support for Mortensen during their meeting immediately following Mortensen stepping down earlier this month — he maintained his innocence in a statement read aloud during the virtual meeting.
However, Directors Plambeck, Kathye Armitage and Beth Braunstein asked for a vote formalizing the elected body’s disapproval of their former colleague’s actions. They were later informed that the board cannot censure a member of the public.
During the trial, Judge Maria Cavalluzzi warned Mortensen that a jury trial would be unpredictable. Mortensen then responded that he was 100% confident that he was going to be acquitted.
And although offered a 52-week diversion program that would have resulted in the criminal case being dismissed in lieu of a trial, Mortensen informed the judge he wanted to go before a jury because he could not be in domestic violence classes while running for reelection in November.