ENCINITAS — Some residents are crying foul after the City Council voted to pass over Councilwoman Teresa Barth for the position of deputy mayor during a special meeting Dec. 8.
The positions are mostly ceremonial and do not involve extra compensation. Traditionally, the posts have rotated annually among council members in an informal system where the next in line moves one chair to the left on the dais.
During the meeting, outgoing Mayor Maggie Houlihan made a motion to appoint Councilman Dan Dalager as mayor and Barth as deputy mayor.
However, Councilman Jerome Stocks made a substitute motion proposing Dalager as mayor and Houlihan as deputy mayor.
Dalager, Stocks and Councilman Jim Bond voted in favor; Houlihan and Barth were opposed.
Both Dalager and Bond cited Houlihan’s yearlong battle with cancer as a reason to give her another opportunity to serve in an official capacity. “Yes, I did have cancer and yes it was a battle,” Houlihan said during the meeting. “From where I’m sitting I don’t feel like I missed out on much.”
Houlihan said she was able to attend meetings and deliver proclamations in addition to her other duties as mayor thanks to the support of friends, family and staff. “I appreciate the sentiment,” she said but added that she would like to maintain the standard rotation of the positions.
While Dalager and Bond used Houlihan’s illness as a reason to vote against Barth during discussion on the motion, Stocks was silent.
Stocks said in a later interview that the city’s ordinance only requires that the positions be selected by a majority of the council. He said he believes Barth lacks the “leadership” to hold the office.
“The bottom line is I wanted to send a message to Ms. Barth,” Stocks said. He said he was frustrated with Barth’s continually calling into question the legality of the city and the council.
Stocks pointed to Barth’s contention in 2007 that the city improperly gave the public 24 hours’ notice for City Council closed sessions rather than a 72-hour notice. State law requires a 72-hour notice for regular council meetings but 24 hours for special meetings.
Barth boycotted closed sessions for more than a month, until City Attorney Glenn Sabine issued an analysis that the shorter notice was legal. The analysis included a 1964 opinion by the state attorney general, which Barth said was superseded by Proposition 59 in 2004. The proposition makes access to government records and meetings a state constitutional right. “This issue is an ongoing legal discussion,” Barth said. “The fact that the city changed its procedure for noticing meetings is evidence that we were not in compliance,” she said.
Stocks also contends that Barth has recused herself from pivotal votes because she didn’t want to make difficult decisions that might be seen as unfavorable by supporters. “Don’t be petty, don’t be rude and don’t duck hard votes,” he admonished.
At least one resident said he thought Dalager orchestrated the vote to punish Barth for criticizing city staff in January when 11 trees were felled in Orpheus Park without public notice. The incident ignited a sit-in protest and a petition drive.
Several e-mails between council members ensued, with Stocks and Bond scoffing at Barth’s concerns and Dalager blasting her for demeaning the city staff in public. In a Jan. 31 e-mail, Dalager implied he wouldn’t support Barth for mayor: “I will NEVER vote to appoint into that position anyone who does not have the competency to work through the system to obtain their goals, and instead spends their time fueling Chinese fire drills and planting discord, solely to keep the spotlight on themselves,” he wrote.
Barth said she plans to put the effort to shut her out behind her. “This was a blessing in disguise,” she said of the vote. “I have gotten dozens of e-mails and phone calls from residents who said they are embarrassed by the council’s actions and that they are grateful I’m on the right track,” she said. “It shows me that my independent stance is embraced and supported by the public.”