CARLSBAD — Residents came to the Oct. 22 City Council meeting armed with petitions ready to call a special election over the vacant District 1 seat.
During the meeting, the body voted 2-1 to move forward with the appointment process to fill the seat vacated by Barbara Hamilton, who resigned on Oct. 9. As soon as the item finished, residents gathered outside the council chambers to solicit signatures.
Mayor Matt Hall and Councilman Keith Blackburn were in favor of opening up the appointment to all eligible District 1 residents, while Councilwoman Priya Bhat-Patel said she was in favor of calling a special election on March 3. Councilwoman Cori Schumacher recused herself once again, citing she did not want to appear biased or have a potential conflict of interest, but did not elaborate further.
The city clerk’s office was directed to draw up an application for potential candidates. District 1 residents may submit applications between Oct. 24 and Nov. 12. The council will take action during its Nov. 19 meeting.
Bhat-Patel said she was previously in favor of an appointment when Hamilton still sat on the council, but said no she favors the election. Hamilton expedited her resignation, in part, because the council did not move forward with her suggestions for filling her seat.
“We have to consider the cost,” Bhat-Patel said. “My gut feeling is giving the people the chance to vote for a candidate with a special election.”
The issue has long been contentious as residents speaking before the council were about split in their desires. Blackburn said it was a difficult decision with no correct answer as it depends on who is voicing their concerns.
“Half the people will say I’m a genius and half the people will say I’m an idiot,” he added. “This is not easy.”
Those in favor of an appointment stressed the 2018 election is less than one year old and the council should either appoint Tracy Carmichael, who finished second to Hamilton by less than 300 votes or tap another resident.
Several residents slammed Schumacher for manipulating the process to stay on the council and questioned her motivations around Hamilton’s resignation. Schumacher was elected as an at-large candidate in 2016, coming in second behind Blackburn. Her term expires in 2020, while the District 1 term runs through 2022.
Former Carlsbad Planning Commissioner Kerry Siekmann also railed against Schumacher and her motives, asking why the councilwoman just didn’t run for the D1 seat in 2018.
Additionally, appointment supporters said the city has had several instances of appointments, noting former council members Michael Schumacher (no relation to Cori Schumacher) and Diane Nygaard, as successes of the process. Also, at least one person cited the cost of an appointment, which is free compared to either special election.
Proponents of the special election said the March 3 date is best for the district and city, citing a lower cost and allowing residents to have their voices heard through a vote. They said the vote is the most democratic way to fill the seat. Hope Nelson, a member of several resident groups and a Schumacher donor, said the council would be wise to remember Measure A, when residents won a special election in 2016 to a divisive mall’s construction.
Others championed the March 3 primary and warned if the council moved for an appointment, they would start gathering signatures. However, those residents in favor of a special election must collect 10%, or 1,654 signatures, in District 1.
Should the council or residents call for a special election, the costs vary depending on the date. The March 3, 2020, election is estimated between $7,500 and $19,500, while the April 14, 2020, election estimates are between $175,000 and $300,000.
The deadline to call a March election is Nov. 10, with petition signatures verified by the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, or Dec. 8 for an April election, according to the staff report.