It took the better part of six weeks, but the Solvang City Council is now back to full strength.
Hans Duus moved out of the city and resigned his position as a council member, setting up the potential for a series of 2-2 tie votes on the five-member council, which is precisely what happened when it came to choosing a stratgey for replacing Duus.
We’ve opined about this situation several times since Duus' announcement, and our position has not changed — the council wasted nearly six weeks of potential policy-making to squabble over how to fill the vacant seat.
We use the word “wasted,” because a previous council had already settled on a replacement method, had codified it with a policy protocol, yet the council continued to dither away its responsibilities until deciding at a rare Friday night meeting last week to install the person who finished a few votes behind Duus in the most recent council election.
Karen Waite is that person, and was sworn in immediately after the council broke the 2-2 stalemate. Waite is also the person who, at the very first opportunity after Duus announced his resignation, said publicly that, yes, she wanted to serve on the council.
All of which should have been obvious from the outset. Why else would a person go through the rigors of campaigning, unless they really wanted the seat for which they were running?
But you know how elected officials can be. Sometimes they have trouble seeing and/or accepting the obvious — even when there is an established protocol for making certain decisions.
Mayor Jim Richardson and Council member Joan Jamieson favored following the protocol and seating Waite. Council members Ryan Toussaint and Neill Zimmerman didn’t like that approach, the latter maintaining until the bitter end of this dispute that a special election might be best.
Our argument against the special election is that it would be a needless waste of taxpayer money, when there already was an approved process for replacing a departing council member.
Richardson, Jamieson and Toussaint teamed up last week to break the stalemate. Zimmerman abstained, apparently still favoring the costly taking-applications/special-election options.
Maybe it took so long to reach the logical conclusion because state law gives a city 60 days to appoint a replacement member. Still, the city’s replacement protocol has been on the books since 2009.
On the other hand, the 60-day window was due to close in a couple of weeks, and if the council had opted for taking applications, making a selection and/or holding a special election, it would have been a rush job.
The council is now back to full force, so perhaps members can get back to city business, such as deciding how to spend an infusion of state money for Solvang’s street-maintenance programs.
Solvang is slated to receive a bit more than $30,000 in state funds this fiscal year, to be spent on projects in the city’s next fiscal period.
Solvang uses a system of evaluating streets each year that assigns a number grade between zero and 100 to a street’s condition, resulting in an overall score. Right now, the score is about 72, which is probably better than can be said for most California communities. The state money will augment Measure A funds to get the work done.
Still, there is much work to accomplish on streets and sidewalks, and the newly-invigorated, fully-manned City Council needs to get to work on a plan for making those streets and sidewalks better and safer.