ENCINITAS — On Nov. 6, voters will decide on three ballot measures to determine the selection process and term length for the mayor of Encinitas.
Proposition K will allow voters to decide whether the mayor should be selected by the public with a direct vote. Proposition L asks if the mayor’s term of office should be two years, while Proposition M asks if the term should be four years.
The debate over Proposition K between past and present Encinitas Council members has also given rise to a dispute over the political power and role of the City’s mayor.
Currently, the Encinitas City Council selects one of its own members to serve as mayor for one year. Encinitas is one of three cities in San Diego to select its mayor through its City Council, while the other 15 cities directly elect their mayors.
If Proposition K is passed, the public will elect the mayor with a direct vote starting in November 2014. The mayor will be elected every two years if Proposition L is passed or every four years if Proposition M is passed. Candidates who meet the same qualifications as the Council members will be eligible to run for mayor.
Under Proposition K, candidates will be unable to run for mayor and for an open City Council seat in the same election, according to Encinitas City Clerk Kathy Hollywood. City Council members may run for mayor in the middle of his or her term.
If a mid-term City Councilmember loses the election for mayor, he or she will keep their position on the Council; however, if a Council member is elected in the middle of his or her term, the City has yet to determine how the resultant open City Council seat will be filled.
Vying to defeat Proposition K, Council member Teresa Barth and former mayor Shelia Cameron said the initiative would give the mayor a disproportionate amount of political power on City Council and would increase the influence of special interests.
“I just feel as (Proposition K) is presented to the community, it is too open ended,” Barth said. “There are too many unanswered questions.”
Barth said she is also concerned that Proposition K does not establish whether an elected mayor would gain additional powers or receive an increased salary. These matters will be determined by the City Council after voters have decided on Proposition K.
Barth and Cameron are advocating that Council establish a formal annual rotation between the City Council members for the position of mayor.
“With cooperating team members, the rotation works,” Cameron said. But she thinks that in the current City Council, “we have a mean gang and cooperation is difficult.”
Mayor Jerome Stocks declined to comment, stating that his opinion on Proposition K was clearly stated in a letter submitted to City Council.
That letter, also signed by Council members James Bond and Mark Muir, and former mayors Christy Guerin and Rick Shea, stated that voters, not politicians working in their self-interests, should elect the mayor.
Shea said that considering the “contentious” nature of recent selections of mayor within City Council, he supports Proposition K because it will let the people decide who should be mayor.
Proposition K supporters also claim that the current selection process makes it difficult for the mayor to achieve long-term goals.
The mayor’s influence over city government matters has been the focal point in the debate over Proposition K.
According to the City of Encinitas’ Municipal Code, the role of mayor holds very few distinctions over that of other City Council members. Whether or not this is the case in practice has been under scrutiny by current and former Council members.
The mayor has the power of setting the agenda for City Council meetings with the City Manager and presides over the meetings.
In doing so, the mayor determines which matters come before the Council and which items are presented at which meetings.
Any two city council members can add items to future City Council meeting agendas.
However, the mayor has the power to add or delete items on future agendas.
City policy dictates that if Council members disagree with the mayor’s decision to remove an item from a meeting agenda, they may submit a written request to be discussed at a future City Council meeting.
Because the mayor has the power to set the Council meeting agendas, Barth and Cameron argue that the mayor holds the power to decide which items appear on City Council agendas regardless of the opinions of other council members.
They said they believe that the influence of special interests from campaign contributors would intensify with an elected mayor.
Supporters of Proposition K maintain that the power of two council members to place items on the agenda as well as council members’ ability to contest the mayor’s agenda decisions keep the mayor’s power equal to other council members.
They also point out that like all other City Council members, the mayor has one equal vote on city government matters.
The mayor also acts as head of the City Council for ceremonial purposes, and makes appointments to city boards, commissions and committees that then must be approved by a Council majority.
Similar to Encinitas, Solana Beach City Council also selects one of its members as mayor for a one-year term by a majority vote.
The Solana Beach City Council has rotated its mayoral selection based in order of how seats were elected on the Council, said Solana Beach City Clerk Angela Ivey. However, the city’s policy only requires a majority vote in Council to select a mayor and does not mandate such a rotation.
Solana Beach has not considered electing its mayor, primarily because an elected mayor in the small city would limit the number of candidates running for City Council, said Ivey.
The Encinitas City Council will still select the mayor for 2013 from its own members after this election, regardless of Proposition K’s outcome.
The City Council terms of Mayor Stocks as well as Council members Bond and Muir are expiring this month.
Stocks and Muir are running for reelection against seven challenger candidates.
Councilman Bond has chosen not to run.