EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to correct the following statement: “If the voters choose to make the positions appointed, the City Council would have the power to appoint the clerk and treasurer positions…” The City Manager would have the authority to appoint those positions, not the council.
OCEANSIDE — City Council decided last week to ask voters if they want to change the city clerk and treasurer from elected to appointed positions on the March 2020 ballot.
In February, City Council directed staff to make a presentation on how to change the two positions from elected to appointed. Staff delivered that presentation at council’s March 27 meeting.
Both positions have been elected since the city was incorporated in 1888. Oceanside voters last decided to keep both positions elected during the March 1976 election.
Since that time, according to city staff, the duties of both the city clerk and city treasurer have “become significantly more complex.”
The clerk must be knowledgeable in dozens of state laws and how they apply to the city, as well as local finance laws and the elections code. The clerk is also responsible for the City Council meeting minutes, maintaining official city documents and records and managing campaign finance laws and city elections.
The treasurer’s duties include managing city funds, following finance laws and creating reports to be reviewed by council.
Both positions require education and experience, according to staff. As a charter city, Oceanside can establish its own criteria for these positions but has yet to do so. Currently the only requirements for people to run for elected positions in Oceanside are to be 18, to live in the city and to be registered voters.
Oceanside is one of the few remaining cities in California that still requires voters to decide on a city clerk and city treasurer.
Nearly 75 percent of California cities appoint clerks, and about 68 percent appoint treasurers. Only three out of 18 cities in San Diego County have elected city clerks and only five cities have elected treasurers.
Under an elected system, the city cannot guarantee that anyone elected to the positions will have the necessary qualifications and experience required.
Converting the positions to be appointed would ensure the city can appoint people who have the necessary qualifications, according to staff. It could also help streamline duties if in-house staff performs clerk and treasurer responsibilities rather than the current system in which work is split between elected officials and staff.
Current City Treasurer Victor Roy was elected back in November 2018 and took office in December. City Clerk Zeb Navarro was appointed in February of this year. Both terms expire in December 2020.
If the voters choose to make the positions appointed, the city manager would have the power to appoint the clerk and treasurer positions once the current terms expire.
The council could also adopt an ordinance at a later date authorizing the city manager to appoint the positions, which Mayor Peter Weiss and other council members supportive of the agenda item affirmed would happen.
Several residents voiced their opposition to converting the positions from being elected to being appointed during the meeting, citing lack of transparency and public trust in council.
Rafe Edward Trickey, Jr., the city’s previous treasurer who was ousted by Roy in November, wrote a letter to council that suggests keeping the treasurer as an elected position while adopting supplementary minimum qualifications.
Councilwoman Esther Sanchez was the only member to vote against putting this issue on the March 2020 ballot. She cited Oceanside voters’ “proud participation” in elections and referred to the positions as “watchdogs” of the city.
“They answer to the public and not to politicians,” she said. “City Council members are considered politicians because all the money that they get from special interests in getting elected, not so much city clerk and city treasurer.”
Sanchez was also concerned about the election being rushed onto the March 2020 ballot, noting the voter turnout will likely be lower than normal.
Councilman Chris Rodriguez explained that putting the issue on the March ballot would prevent potential treasurer candidates from wasting their time running in November.
For Rodriguez, the clerk and treasurer position holders cannot be effective watchdogs if they don’t have the proper credentials for the jobs.
“We need someone that’s competent, that’s capable, that has the capacity to look over the spreadsheets and the numbers and the investments and make informed decisions and be the watchdog we need them to be,” he said.