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Romantic partners can serve on Del Mar city boards, council finds

Romantic partners can each serve on Del Mar quasi-judicial boards, the council found Monday, March 4.

The subject was heard at the end of Monday's meeting, when Mayor Dave Druker and Council member Terry Gaasterland questioned whether two people involved in romantic relationships should be allowed to serve on boards such as the city council, design review board (DRB) or planning commission.

Druker said he thought such a conversation would allow for more transparency in city government.

Ellie Haviland
Deputy Mayor Ellie Haviland Courtesy

Some residents, who spoke during public comment, questioned the timing. The council heard the item about one month before Design Review Board Chairman Tim Haviland's seat is up on April 1, at which point he could be reappointed or someone else could be selected. Tim Haviland, who has sat on the board since May 2015, is married to Deputy Mayor Ellie Haviland, who was sworn in November 2016.

"I didn't want this to necessarily be about Tim and Ellie, yet the timing is basically on Tim," Druker said. "I want to make sure that when we do look at his application, that we've had this discussion about it and whether or not it's appropriate."

Druker was sworn in the council in 2016 after formerly serving on the governing body from 1996 to 2008, including three terms as mayor. Since then, he said, there has only been one other incident where a married couple sat on city boards. Don Mosier, former city council member, pointed to Former Mayor Carl Hilliard and former DRB member Sharon Hilliard as an example. However, Carl Hilliard presided over his last council meeting in December 2012, according to past reports from the San Diego Union-Tribune and Del Mar Times. His wife was appointed to the DRB the following January, according to the articles.

Gaasterland added she believed such a discussion could "rebuild transparency and trust" in the 21st century where "women play on an even field." She also noted that on other boards, such as her homeowner’s association, members of the same household are not allowed to serve at the same time.

But the other council members disagreed and found the timing suspect.

Ellie Haviland, a former planning commissioner who didn't vote on the matter but participated in the discussion, asked why this was being brought up now when it could have been a topic of discussion since she was first elected.

She added that her criteria for DRB members is that they "understand, believe and are willing" to enforce the city's design review ordinance.

"To suggest that I would let a family member influence my vote is not born out by my record on council over the last two years," she said, adding that she has voted to overturn a DRB decision and has recused herself from similar discussions.

Council member Sherryl Parks said she felt "disappointed" that the topic was not brought up at the council's recent retreat.

"This isn't team building," she said. "I'm deeply troubled that I worked so hard to get this team together and have as much transparency in our discussions as we could, and the next week [after the retreat] we have a 'gotcha' [item] on the agenda."

Council member Dwight Worden said he believed the discussion created division in the community and distrust among colleagues.

He added he believed that anytime someone like a spouse or business person is called upon to vote on an appeal or appointment, that his or her partner previously voted on, that person should abstain from a vote. He noted such regulations are already covered in the Brown Act.

"That's what the law is today," he said. "You recuse because of bias. ... This is retrograde because it denies each of them from acting independently."

City Attorney Leslie Devaney said, according to the League of California Cities, only one city, Bell Gardens, has a similar policy regarding spouses on boards. She added there are no legal issues with someone's significant other being on a different governing board. Such issues should be taken case by case to ensure each member is fair and impartial, she said.

Dozens of residents turned up to the meeting, with some saying that such a law is needed to ensure no potential conflicts of interest.

Resident John Imprado said allowing couples on different boards puts the city "squarely in common law conflict" and could make future litigation "messier" if someone accuses a member of a conflict of interest.

But others opposed the discussion, adding that Del Mar is a small city and that qualified people should be able to serve, regardless of who they know.

"It's inherently divisive," said resident David Doyle. "What we need in this city is cohesion and consensus. We need to avoid divisiveness."

Because the council could not come to a majority agreement, Druker concluded the item would not be discussed any further, maintaining the status quo.

The city announced in an email March 6 that it has begun taking applications for the DRB seat. Applications are due by March 22.

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