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San Marcos taps Escondido official Petrek for council

SAN MARCOS — The San Marcos City Council has tapped Escondido Assistant City Manager Jay Petrek to fill the vacancy on the City Council. 

The council unanimously voted Jan. 15 to appoint Petrek, a former longtime San Marcos Unified School District board member, to fill the void left by Rebecca Jones’ election as the city’s mayor. 

Council members said that Petrek had the best blend of local government and elected experience after spending nearly three decades at the city of Escondido and 10 years on the school board. 

“He has experience in local government, he has experience that he will be able to hit the ground running, he understands our issues in San Marcos and he knows how tough it is to make hard decisions,” Jones said. 

Petrek said he was humbled by the selection.

“I just want to say what a humbling experience this has been and what a great field of candidates there are,” Petrek said. 

Petrek was sworn in after a three-hour session in which the City Council interviewed 23 of the 24 applicants for the position and listened to residents who lobbied for the applicants they supported. 

Unlike the cities of Oceanside and Encinitas, which also appointed council members to fill vacancies, San Marcos did not pick a candidate who resides in a district that will be up for election for the first time in 2020. The council said this was by design, as to not give the appointee an unfair incumbency advantage in 2020.

Jones in her remarks criticized “other cities” for a lack of transparency in their process, but did not specify which city.

“Transparency is very important, and there were some other cities in the same position, and they had their little picks ahead of time and they didn’t interview all of the candidates,” Jones said. “I think it was important to have a transparent process and set aside personal feelings, listen to every single candidate, because it is important.”

Other council members echoed Jones sentiments, saying that the process and the selection of someone from outside of the districts would give the public the right to choose their representative in 2020.

“I do hope to avoid creating that inherent incumbency somebody gets by being appointed, it is a very large advantage,” newly elected City Councilman Randy Walton said. “I would prefer that it is truly the public’s choice for who they get to pick for those two districts.”

Petrek said after joining the council on the dais that he will not run in two years. 

San Marcos received 24 applications for the position, a list that included current planning commissioners, a state assembly candidate, an FBI agent, a former City Councilman and business owners. 

Petrek worked his way up Escondido’s ranks since 1984 to the position of community development director before being selected as the city’s assistant city manager in 2016.

San Marcos City Attorney Helen Holmes Peak said that Petrek’s employment with Escondido doesn’t pose a conflict of interest because he isn’t directly involved with any financial decisions that would impact his appointed and employed positions. 

A San Marcos resident for 25 years, Petrek served on several school district committees, including the budget oversight, curriculum, overcrowding and Proposition K steering committees. He was appointed to the school board in 2006 and elected in 2008 and served until 2016, when he did not seek re-election. 

Last year, he chaired the school board committee that helped realign the school district’s enrollment boundaries. 

“As a volunteer and elected I have had opportunity to listen, to learn and appreciate the diverse perspectives of our community, be a team player, collaborative and results oriented,” Petrek said in his interview for the council position. 

Petrek said that his guiding principles on governance are to be “clean, safe and efficient.”

“It may sound simplistic but I think the public interest is best served when local leadership makes sound decisions and promote a safe environment, clean and attractive public and private projects that advance the community vision and stewardship of community assets and infrastructure in an efficient manner using updated technology,” he said. 

Several residents spoke in support of alternate Planning Commissioner Dimitris Magemeneas and State Assembly candidate Alan Geraci at the Jan. 15 meeting.