OCEANSIDE — The first 60 days of his absence were excused by City Council without declaring his seat vacant. The subsequent 60 days, which began Aug. 9, are a legal grace period that kicked in when he did not return to office.
Options for City Council if the mayor’s seat remains vacant are to appoint a mayor or have an election to fill the position.
Until then Oceanside is served by four council members. The city has already felt the impact of a deadlock 2-2 vote.
“I hope the mayor does what is best for his health and what is best for the city,” Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery said. “Council has already deadlocked on one important item; the city can’t afford to continue to deadlock on other future planning items.”
A number of pressing council decisions on major items lay ahead. Lowery recommends an appointment of someone who is actively involved in the city decision-making process if the mayor does not return to his seat.
“We should look for someone who has the ability to work with the diverse and often contentious opinions on the council currently,” Lowery said. “It will do the city and the council a disservice to find someone who is unable to build consensus.”
Many think it would be difficult for City Council to agree on a council member appointment to mayor. If a council member is appointed there would be a vacant council seat, which would need to be appointed or elected.
“It will create the exact same scenario with an empty seat,” City Clerk Zack Beck said. “The wise thing to do is to simply appoint someone (who is not a council member) who can hit the ground running and get back to business as usual.”
A person appointed or elected mayor needs a good working relationship with council members and sound understanding of city operations. They would also have to agree to an annual salary of about $20,000.
If City Council opts for an election it would be held during the June 2018 primary. The estimated cost of an election is between $500,000 and $750,000.
Another wrinkle is Oceanside has recently adopted district elections. The election of mayor and filling a vacant council seat remain at large.
In November 2018 two council seats will be voted on by district. In November 2020 the mayor will be elected at large, and the two remaining council seats will be elected by district.
Despite the challenges of appointing a mayor and council member Lowery said it’s the best course of action considering the cost of an election.
“I believe we should appoint from a citywide pool and deal with any consequences down the line when we have to consider them,” Lowery said.
Lowery added he would be honored to fill the appointment of mayor if asked to do so.
Wood continues to work on his recovery after suffering a stroke in May that hospitalized him for a month. He still faces challenges of speech and balance, which keeps him in a wheelchair.
During his recovery Wood has kept in regular contact with the city manager and city attorney and remains updated on city operations.
“His greatest desire is to come back,” Council Aide Debbie Walker-Mikulay said. “A 65 percent vote elected him as mayor. He’s a people person. People do love him.”
Council members and city staff wish the mayor a full recovery.
“He is a man of great character that gives his life to the city,” Beck said. “He has served the city for over 40 years. He will be dearly missed if he is unable to return.”
Walker-Mikulay said Wood will make a decision on whether he will return to office within the next couple of weeks. His decision is expected prior to the Oct. 4 City Council meeting when a 60-day clock begins to appoint a mayor or call for an election.