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Former Councilwoman Ellen Haviland and husband Tim Haviland, who served on the city's Design and Review Board, raised questions about whether romantic partners could serve on municipal boards simultaneously.
In 2019, former Councilwoman Ellen Haviland and her husband Tim Haviland, who served on the city's Design and Review Board while his wife was on the council, raised questions about whether significant others should serve on municipal boards simultaneously. Courtesy photo
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Del Mar City Council adopts ‘anti-nepotism’ policy, Worden dissents

DEL MAR — Significant others and immediate family members of Del Mar City Council members can no longer serve concurrently on the city’s Design Review Board or Planning Commission under a new “anti-nepotism” policy adopted by the council Monday evening.

The amendment to City Council Policy 200 was approved in a 4-1 vote, with Mayor Dwight Worden dissenting. Since 2019, the policy has only required council members to recuse themselves when voting on an appointment to the Planning Commission or Design Review Board when their significant other or spouse is an applicant.

Policy language now restricts any council member’s “parent, child, spouse, significant other, or sibling” from serving on the two bodies during the term of the councilmember, and requires the resignation of board or commission members whose immediate family member or significant other is elected to the city council.

“I think it reflects what I would like to see and I know a whole lot of members of the public would like to see,” Councilman Dave Druker said. “The bodies need to be separate.”

The City Council is responsible for appointing individuals to both the Design Review Board and Planning Commission, and both make decisions that are occasionally appealed to the council.

Druker and Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland first pushed for the policy amendments to be adopted back in 2019, as the community scrutinized the fact that former Design Review Board chair Tim Haviland was facing reappointment while former Councilwoman Ellie Haviland, his spouse, was serving on the council.

However, an opposing council majority kept the widespread ban from moving forward, and council members were only required to recuse themselves from appointments when their significant other was a candidate.

Gaasterland called Monday’s policy amendment a “step in the right direction.”

“The last time this came to us, I was very supportive and I remain supportive,” she said. “Recognizing that our city is small and that we have a small pool of people ready to contribute, that makes this resolution even more important.”

Worden stood alone in criticizing the proposed policy, which he said could exclude qualified individuals from serving the city – especially since roles on city commissions and committees are unpaid – and require the government to scrutinize people’s relationships with their significant others. He added that there are sufficient rules on the books to prevent conflicts of interest.

“It’s not a problem in Del Mar, but we are likely to have created some problems with the new policy we have,” he said. “What we’re talking about in Del Mar is grown adults volunteering their time. They’re not getting paid, they’re not getting hired, and all those nepotism rules don’t apply to the circumstance.”

If a council member were dating someone who decided to run for a seat on one of the two bodies or vice-versa, Worden said, the city would be tasked with determining how serious the relationship is.

“That’s inviting the government into people’s bedrooms, to ask them those kinds of questions,” he said.

Acting City Clerk Sarah Krietor said those situations would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, likely with the guidance of the city attorney’s office. While the original policy amendment presented to the council limited the restriction to those sharing a residence with a council member, the council voted to expand it to those in a separate residence.

At this time, Krietor said she is not aware of any existing relationships that would require a Design Review Board or Planning Commission member to step down following the November election when Gaasterland and Worden’s seats will be on the ballot since the filing period does not begin until July.

“As of right now, I’m not aware of any conflicts because there are no candidates yet. We’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it,” Krietor said.

Resident Laura Demarco advocated during public comment for the council to go a step further and apply the policy to the other bodies such as the finance committee and Parks and Recreation Committee.

“It is better to eliminate conflicts of interest rather than to create more. This would implicitly allow any relative of a city council member to sit on the finance committee or Parks and Rec committee. You’re only restricting nepotism to the Design Review Board and planning commission,” Demarco said.

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