REGION — With the same number of candidates as available seats, council members in the county’s two smallest cities agreed in special meetings Aug. 20 to cancel their local elections during the Nov. 4 general election.
Del Mar and Solana Beach each have two council seats that will be vacant. As of the Aug. 13 filing deadline, which was extended five days because incumbents in each city are not running, two candidates qualified in each city. The votes to call off the contest were split in both cities.
In Del Mar, Mayor Lee Haydu, who is not seeking re-election, Councilman Don Mosier and Councilwoman Sherryl Parks agreed to appoint rather than elect incumbent Terry Sinnott and D. Dwight Worden, who served as Del Mar’s city attorney from 1977 to 1983.
Although canceling the election will save the city about $7,000, Sinnott said it should be held for several reasons.
“Del Mar likes to cast votes for elected officials,” he said. “I think canceling sets a bad precedence that candidates don’t have to run.”
Sinnott also said it does not allow an opportunity for write-in candidates. The chance of that happening is very slim but there are groups that aren’t happy, Sinnott said.
“I don’t think we should close the door on any group in the community that wants to write in a candidate,” he added. “It’s not good government.”
He also said campaigning gives the public a chance to meet the candidates, something Haydu said candidates can do with or without an election.
Sinnott also said he did not file candidate papers to be appointed to City Council.
“I filed to be elected by the voters,” he said, adding that had he known he might be appointed he may not have submitted the application.
Councilman Al Corti, who also voted to hold the election, said he vacillated on his decision but ultimately decided the cost was minimal and the process was important.
“I didn’t take office thinking I had the right to cancel an election,” Corti said. “We’re just altering the voting process.
“There could be a write-in candidate,” he added. “I think, let the public be heard.”
Ironically, all current members ran in uncontested elections. In 2008 and 2012 canceling the contests was not an option because there were local initiatives on the ballot.
In 2010 a candidate dropped out at the last minute.
Del Mar received two emails from residents who supported an election.
“The small cost of doing so is a wise investment in civic involvement and community capacity building,” Wayne Dernetz wrote.
“Even though both candidates will be elected, it would be interesting, and worth the money, to see how much support each candidate garners from the voters,” Ralph Peck wrote. “Why not let the public be heard?”
Two of the three speakers, including former Councilman Dave Druker, said the city should save the money and appoint the candidates.
Kevin Burke took out the paperwork to run but did not complete the process.
In Solana Beach, Mayor Tom Campbell, who is not seeking re-election, and Councilman Dave Zito voted to have the election, while Councilman Mike Nichols, who is running for a third term, Councilwoman Lesa Heebner and Councilman Peter Zahn supported appointing Nichols and Ginger Marshall.
This is the third time in four election cycles Solana Beach has canceled its local contest. In 2008 and 2010 there also were an equal number of candidates for vacant seats.
Solana Beach recently received 14 emails, all favoring appointing the candidates, but half of the six speakers urged council to hold the election in November.
Mary Jane Boyd said voters have a right to “have an election, which allows them to express their opinions.”
“The current negative political climate in this city has created concern people don’t want to run, and that is a sad commentary on our city,” Boyd said.
“Normally I would fully support appointments but I would suggest we have unusual circumstances this year,” Jim Nelson said. “You should honor the basic premise of democracy and elections, and you should keep that option open for a write-in candidate.”
Two other residents pulled papers to run and told The Coast News days before the deadline they intended to complete the process.
Patrick Germon and Shannon Lerach did not respond to email requests to explain why they did not file the completed paperwork.
Resident Jeri Retman said potential candidates had ample time to complete the application, especially with the five-day extension.
“Anybody could have jumped into this race,” she said. “I think this is an opportunity to stir up a little trouble. … It seems like a no-brainer to me to save some money.”
Councilwoman Lesa Heebner agreed it would not be wise to spend taxpayer money on an election with a foregone conclusion.
She said the last couple of election cycles “have been extremely nasty.”
“I’d rather not put the community through that,” she added.
Campbell noted that in 2008 and 2010 he voted to hold the elections.
“The write-in process is part of the democratic process,” he said. “I’m going to be consistent with how I’ve done it in the past. … I’m not going to change my mind.”
Solana Beach will save between $5,000 and $12,000, which could be helpful given the city spent about $200,000 for a special election in February to determine a use policy for Fletcher Cove Community Center.
State law allows cities to cancel local elections but it must be done at least 75 days prior to a scheduled election. That deadline was Aug. 21, the day after both cities voted to forgo the contests.