Here’s why, in reasonable democracies, groups such as the Solvang City Council have an odd number of members — if the numbers are even, too many votes end in a tie.
In one way, that’s how it should be, and a srong indication that a community’s diverse demographics are adequately represented in policy-making decisions.
On the other hand, if a five-member council loses a member, leaving four elected representatives who can’t agree, the outcome is a classic demonstration of limbo, and here’s how the internet defines “limbo”: In Catholic theology, limbo is a speculative idea about the afterlife condition of those who die in original sin without being assigned to the hell of the damned.
Or something like what’s happening with the Solvang City Council’s dilemma concerning how to replace Hans Duus, who resigned his council seat after moving to Santa Maria.
The remaining four members have split 2-2 several times on how to select Duus’ replacement. They finally did agree on something, however, to put off a decision until a future meeting.
State law gives the council 60 days to decide on a replacement method, and that clock started running Aug. 28. Tick tock, tick tock …
We’re not certain why elected officials put themselves — and taxpayers — through such a stressful wringer. The state’s Government Code gives city councils and other elected boards only two options for filling a vacant seat: Either appoint a replacement, or hold a special election no less than 114 days after reaching that decision.
We included “taxpayers” in that paragraph as a clue about how we think the council should fill the empty seat. Actually, the solution is as plain as the nose on your face — select the person who finished second to Duus in the most recent election.
In fact, that is the city’s stated protocol, which is to offer the seat to that first runner-up, which in this case would be Karen Waite, who finished just five votes behind Duus in the 2016 city election.
To bring the four council members’ decision even more into clear focus, Waite has said she wants to serve on the council. She wants the job.
Which leaves only option No. 2, which is to hold a special election — at taxpayers’ expense — to fill a seat that is up for election next year anyway.
As it turns out, our elected representatives at every level of government can’t see the forest for the trees, which may explain why the four sitting council members can’t agree, but which defies all logic when it comes to properly representing the will of the people.
Cost should be a consideration, especially in a town the size of Solvang. A special election could be expensive. When a similar situation occurred nine years ago, city officials reckoned a special election would cost about $30,000. A mail-only ballot would save about $10,000 of that cost. We can’t imagine elections have gotten less expensive in the past decade.
It also is interesting that the two veteran council members favor following city protocol naming Waite to the seat, while the two newer council members want a special election. This is one of those situations in which experience definitely counts.
Council member Joan Jamieson, one of the veterans, made the salient point: “We are a government agency that runs on rules and regulations. We don’t get to pick and choose.”
She is spot-on, and fellow council members should keep that fact in mind. Just because the state gives city officials a choice doesn’t mean they should take it.