CARLSBAD — The retirement of former City Clerk Barbra Engleson, which came largely as a surprise to the public, has prompted the Carlsbad City Council to look at redefining the position.
During its Aug. 31 meeting, the council declared a vacancy for the clerk position and unanimously passed an ordinance to allow the position to remain vacant when there are less than 16 months remaining on the term.
Engleson retired last month after serving in the position since 2013. Staff will return with a presentation about a possible transition from an elected position to an appointed position, which would require a ballot measure approved by voters, according to Kristina Ray, the city’s director of communications and engagement.
Councilwoman Priya Bhat-Patel also championed an ordinance to reclassify the elected position as an appointment, but some residents are pushing back against that idea.
“The obligation of the ideally politically neutral City Clerk (sic) position would be obliged to the whims of the City Council and City Manager (sic) instead of the electorate,” wrote resident Kris Wright in a discussion on Facebook. “The neutrality of this position is critical since the records of certain officials can be ‘misplaced’ or deleted when the public has a right to those records by law. It introduces the possibility of corruption. When it comes down to it, it is taking away the rights of the people to vote.”
In an interview with The Coast News, Mayor Matt Hall said the discussion of reclassifying the position from electoral to appointed has circulated for years. Hall said the requirements to either elect or appoint a clerk are steep, thus making it difficult to find individuals able to fill the role, and an election could be more challenging than an appointment.
Ray said staff will return with possible options of how an appointment-based system — if approved by voters — might operate.
The city clerk is to “serve as the local officials for elections, local legislation, the Public Records Act, the Political Reform Act and the Brown Act (open meeting laws),” according to the city’s website. Other duties include legal noticing, recording petitions, claims and lawsuits, providing certified copies of city documents and making sure the “decision-making process” is transparent and complies with local, state and federal regulations.
For the 15 months remaining on Engleson’s term, city staff will cover those responsibilities.
“There are distinct duties that clerk has and staff will be taking on in the interim,” Ray said.
Faviola Medina, city clerk services manager, said the current staff has the capacity to handle those tasks.
Medina serves as an alternate for the clerk in covering City Council meetings along with other duties
The council had three options before it during the meeting, including filling the vacancy by special election, appointment or adopting an ordinance. The council opted for the latter, which has a cost savings of $40,000 through December 2022.
According to the staff report, a special election on April 12, 2022, would have cost between $750,000 and $1,500,000. The city would have had to use reserve funds to cover the excess of the contingency balance of $482,900.
As to why the position would be reclassified, Bhat-Patel said she didn’t want to get into details or “rationale” during the meeting. Emails to the City Council were not returned by deadline.
“I would say it’s more a hired position than an elected position,” Bhat-Patel said, noting Engleson was open to the job being a staff position. “It’s just a different way of looking at it. I won’t go into more detail than I’m supposed to but just wanted to share my thoughts.”
Additionally, the clerk position has a specific set of criteria a candidate must have to hold office. Those include being a resident in the city and registered to vote and either hold a designation of certified municipal clerk from the International Institute of Municipal Clerks; or have two years of full-time, salaried work experience in either business administration or public administration and possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.