Sherman R. Frederick
The Novato City Council, which likes to take pride in it’s “no drama” approach of late to Council meetings, found itself squabbling at the last meeting.
The issue at hand: How to fill the vacancy left by Hamilton area Councilmember Amy Peele, who abruptly resigned, she said, to preserve her mental health.
The council split on whether to appoint a person to fill the vacancy until the next election, or hold a special election. Eventually, after two failed votes, the Council decided 4-0 to hold a special meeting on Oct. 12. At that meeting, it would be decided whether to send the vacancy to a special election, or have the Council appoint a person to fill the vacant seat.
A special election would cost just over $100,000 and be funded entirely out of the pockets of city taxpayers. It also would leave the district unrepresented until May of 2022. Appointing a person who lives in District 5 (the Hamilton area) could be done as early as November of this year. If the council goes the appointment route, the person appointed would have to stand for election in the regular November 2022 election, which would cost the city about $8,000.
Peele was elected in 2019. At the Sept. 14 meeting she dropped the bombshell telling the Council and her district that she quit, effective immediately.
“The intense stress and demands of this position in the current climate have severely affected my mental and physical health,” she said. “I am unwilling to subject myself to it (the stress) any longer.”
Councilmember Denise Athas and Susan Wernick favored appointing a District 5 representative. They said it was a faster and more cost effective way to get representation for District 5. Councilmember Eric Lucan and Mayor Pat Eklund argued for the special election option because it would avoid what they thought might be a messy split vote by the council on the appointment.
Eklund also said the people in the district need to be more involved.
Eklund said she was surprised by how many people in Novato do not read the Independent Journal anymore, a regional newspaper owned by a Denver company. The city’s local newspaper, the Novato Advance, covered the vacancy prominently last month. The Novato Advance is read by about 18,000 residents of Novato.
Mayor Eklund suggested that the city spend the money to send District 5 residents “little post cards” informing them of the vacancy.
“This is so important,” the mayor said.
“There’s so much confusion in the community. We need to clear that up.”
Councilmember Wernek, however, said she was concerned about waiting.
“I do have concerns with delaying.” There are big issues coming up, like redistricting, she said and “District 5 should be weighing in.”
“Lack of representation greatly concerns me,” she said.
Councilman Eric Lucan said “This is not an easy one.”
“I’m probably leaning toward a special election at this point.”
Councilmember Denise Athas agreed with Councilmember Wernek that the shorter time District 5 is without representation the better.
“I very much would like to go the appointment route.”
Councilmember Wernek and Athas moved that the Council set a date to appoint a representative. Eklund and Lucan voted against, so the motion failed.
Eklund moved that the Council wait until Oct. 12 to make a decision on whether to send the vacancy to a special election or to an appointment. That motion failed 2-2 with Eklund and Athas butting heads along the way.
“Looks like we can’t agree on this item,” a somewhat miffed Mayor Eklund said as she raised her hands in surrender.
“I wasn’t going to consider an appointment,” Eklund said, “But I’m willing to consider it if we can reach out to the community more.”
Athas: “For clarification, you would agree to possibly appoint.”
Eklund: “I said I would consider an election or an appointment on the 12th.”
Thanks to Lucan, who said he would also consider an appointment so long as the Council were given several options that may more readily bring about a unanimous vote.
Those pledges to keep an open mind on the appointment route seemed to satisfy Wernek and Athas. A motion to make that so was approved 4-0.