With the city of Davis facing a $1.2 million shortfall, one Davis City councilmember’s decision to not step down from his post could cost the city’s taxpayers several hundred thousand dollars.
Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor, who was first elected to the council in 2004, is running unopposed for a seat on the Yolo County Board of Supervisors in the June 8 primary election.
If elected with a simple majority, Saylor would assume his seat on the Board of Supervisors in January 2011. This potentially could lead to a $300,000 stand-alone special election to replace him on the Davis City Council, said Freddie Oakley, the Yolo County Clerk-Recorder.
However, if Saylor resigns in July, at the urging of both the Davis Enterprise and the Sacramento Bee editorial boards, the rest of the council could appoint a replacement to serve in his seat until November, when Saylor’s successor would be elected as part of the consolidated general election. This would cost the city much less, although exact figures are impossible to predict, Oakley said.
Lastly, the city council has the option to appoint a successor to Saylor’s seat once he resigns from his post in January to assume his Board of Supervisor duties. The cost for this option would be minimal, Oakley said.
“There’s work to be done on the council,” Saylor said, when asked why he will not step down early. “I want to continue to work on helping the new council build effective governing habits and continue to focus on fiscal stability and the city budget.”
Saylor added that the discussion about filling his seat is largely premature since he has not yet been elected to the Board of Supervisors.
The Sacramento Bee and Davis Enterprise both suggested that the four remaining members of the council appoint Saylor himself to serve as a councilmember until November if he were to step down from his post in July.
However, Saylor referred to such an option as a “bizarre back room deal,” involving four councilmembers, two of whom have not yet been elected, agreeing to do something without having a public discussion. By law, the city council can only discuss the process for filling a vacancy on the council after the vacancy occurs, Saylor said.
Two new Davis city councilmembers will be elected in the June 8 election.
“If a councilmember suggested [appointing me in July] there would be cries of conspiracy,” Saylor said.
According to city clerk Zoe Mirabile, once Saylor tenders his resignation, the city has 30 days by state law to call for either the appointment process or the stand-alone special election.
“They would have to come to some kind of a consensus,” Mirabile said, referring to the potential of a 2-2 tie on the council.
Meanwhile, local city officials offered their thoughts on the soon-to-be open council seat.
“We are either a representative democracy or we’re not,” Oakley said, specifically referring to the appointment process. “Since the law provides for them to [appoint a successor], why not?”
Oakley added that the city of Davis has not yet reimbursed the Yolo County Elections office for the last special election, a tab of approximately $240,000.
“I hope [the city] doesn’t call a special election because I don’t know when they will pay us back,” she said.
City councilmember Lamar Heystek said that he does not personally have strong feelings toward the issue, but that if citizens do, they should make their thoughts heard.
“The people need to be vocal about what their preferences are,” he said. “It’s the will of the people that has to be answered.”
Councilmember Stephen Souza said that he favors an open forum appointment process.
“Anybody could put in an application,” he said. “The community would ask questions and the councilmembers would listen to it all.”
Souza said he favors the appointment process because of its minimal cost. At a minimum, the consolidated election option would cost $70,000, while Souza said his open forum appointment process could be completed for “hundreds of dollars, not thousands.”
“Money is scarce,” Saylor said, referring to the options presented to the city. “It is likely that the council will pay close attention to the cost.”
Saylor said the likely considerations the council will keep in mind when making its decision are the cost of the options, the time it takes to fill the vacancy, and “the legitimate desire to include the public voice in filling the vacancy.”
Meanwhile, councilmember Sue Greenwald, who often opposes Saylor on critical development issues, said that Saylor should step aside early so that a much less expensive election could be held in November.
“What [Saylor] is doing is leaving citizens with a very unpleasant choice,” she said.
Greenwald said that having an appointed councilmember would be undemocratic and holding a special election would be too costly.
“Most people enjoy a little vacation after serving six years and I think he should take it,” she said.
CHINTAN DESAI can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.