ENCINITAS — Local officials are discussing how best to fill the soon-to-be vacant council seat left by the city’s newly-elected mayor.
Councilman Tony Kranz, who currently represents District 1 in Leucadia, won a resounding victory over his opponents in this year’s mayoral election, winning nearly 50% of the vote — twice as much as any other candidate — to replace outgoing Mayor Catherine Blakespear.
Kranz’s seat will become vacant in December and remain empty until the newly-convened council determines how to fill the position.
The city’s municipal code says that “in the case of a vacancy on the City Council, for any reason, the council shall fill the vacancy by appointment,” meaning the council would vote for a new District 1 representative. Three of the five current sitting council members — Joy Lyndes, Kellie Hinze and Joe Mosca — were appointed to their seats by Blakespear and the council.
However, if Kranz’s seat is not filled within 60 days of its vacancy, the council may call a special election.
On the whole, city leaders interviewed for this story largely favored appointing a representative to fill the vacancy, pointing to the potential costs — in dollars and time — typically associated with a special election.
“My perspective is that I hope that we can appoint somebody,” said Hinze. “It’s cheaper and happens quicker, so let’s find a consensus candidate, somebody we can all agree would be right for the seat.”
During a Stay Classy San Diego podcast interview before the election, Kranz said he favored appointing a replacement to the vacant District 1 seat.
“I would, of course, prefer to have people pick their representatives, but at the same time, the question of resources is real in Encinitas,” Kranz said. “The city clerk has said that a $200,000 election is what we would be looking at for an appointment. And the reality is that most Encinitas residents are very supportive of the appointments we’ve (previously) made. Special elections also take a lot of time, so the remainder of that person’s term is spent figuring out a special election. So, if the council members can come to a consensus on a fifth member, I think that’s a legitimate way of appointing a fifth member.”
Lyndes, representing District 3, echoed the concerns expressed by Kranz and Hinze over holding a special election but maintained that she was open to either possibility.
“I will assess the pros and cons of these options when we get to that place,” Lyndes said. “There are so many things we do in public office, and we need to assess the costs, impacts, and what the community would be best served with. I will remain open-minded about what direction to move forward in evaluating this issue.”
Lyndes is awaiting final election results in her campaign to keep her seat against challenger Julie Thunder, holding a narrow advantage in the race with some ballots still to be counted later this week.
In District 4, Councilman Joe Mosca will be replaced by the newly-elected Bruce Ehlers, a former planning chairman, who defeated challenger Pamela Redela last Tuesday.
In contrast to the other three council members, Ehlers said that he would likely not favor an appointment, maintaining that a special election better reflects the will of city residents.
“I want the people to select the incumbent, not the council to select the incumbent,” Ehlers said. “I’m in firm opposition to appointing incumbents. This council has three (appointments) up there already, and we see the problems that this causes with what I call the ‘unanimously wrong’ council.
“The appointment gives an undeserved advantage in the next election cycle with the power of incumbency. Name recognition and notoriety is big, and I don’t think it’s fair to anoint one person who is aligned with the majority on the council over another person who is aligned with the majority of people. And the result of this happening repeatedly is what we have now — you get people all from one side in a supermajority, and they’re out of sync with the people.”
Community members and former city leaders expressed mixed feelings about how to best fill the vacancy.
“If there were a vacancy to be filled that was about a year or less from the next election, then an appointment would be appropriate,” said former Encinitas mayor Jerome Stocks. “This, however, would be nearly two years of service — which, by the way, is what the mayor’s full term is — and therefore, I believe a special election is warranted.”
Stocks dismissed the notion that appointments save time and money.
“All democracy takes time and money,” Stocks said. “I believe most Americans still think (a special election) is worth it, nonetheless.”
Former County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, who also served as mayor of Encinitas, said in the case of Kranz’s seat, a special election would be the most appropriate route for the newly-seated council.
“In my view, consideration for appointment should come down to the length of time in a term, cost and when a special election can be conducted,” Gaspar said. “I served on the Encinitas City Council when we decided to appoint due to the unfortunate passing of Councilwoman (Maggie) Houlihan. At the time, the councilwoman had less than a year left in her term, and it would have taken several months and $320,000 to conduct a special election. After careful consideration, it was determined that a special election wasn’t in the best interest of the taxpaying residents.
“Tony (Kranz) has two more years left in his term, which is a significant amount of time. If a special election, in this case, can be conducted within a reasonable timeframe and cost, I would lean toward supporting a special election.”
Conversely, Garvin Walsh, an Encinitas resident, expressed that utilizing appointments to fill vacancies is a better mechanism for incentivizing civic participation in city government than special elections.
“It’s very difficult to get good people to run for office,” Walsh said. “Instead, I think we should say, ‘Who do we have available?’ We want to offer inducements to people out there to run for office, and an appointment is a way of doing that. I really think that you can incentivize people to participate by making an appointment that is of benefit to the community.”
For her part, Blakespear said appointees represent the will of the people just as much as candidates selected via special election.
“The appointment process has worked well in the past because it saves taxpayer’s money by avoiding the cost of a special election and allows for a full team to be created relatively quickly,” Blakespear said. “It’s clear that the voters approved of the people selected because they elected them two years later. Joe Mosca, Kellie Hinze and Joy Lyndes proved to the voters during their two-year trial that they were great elected officials, and most opted to retain them as their representatives.”
None of the council members interviewed for this story said they knew of candidates who had put their names forward for a District 1 appointment.
However, Mali Woods-Drake, founder of Encinitas4Equality and a former member of the city’s Equity Committee, confirmed she is considering applying for the role after discussing the matter with individuals in city government.
“I am considering applying for the position,” Woods-Drake told The Coast News. “I also want to wait until the Joy Lyndes-Julie Thunder election results are finalized to make a full decision. I’m not sure about the timing because I have a full-time job, I just got married, and I’m planning on having a family soon. I’m talking about it with my spouse, and hopefully, I’ll be making a decision soon.”