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Del Mar council attempts to move on from ‘significant other’ controversy

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Del Mar City Hall
(Jon Clark)

Rather than engage in another marathon debate over how the city handles potential interest conflicts, Del Mar council members agreed to a truce of sorts when they met Monday, June 17.

At Mayor Dave Druker’s suggestion, the council voted 5-0 to make one official policy change. Council members whose spouses or domestic partners are applying for positions on the Design Review Board and Planning Commission will not be allowed to vote on the appointments.

The action fell short of Druker and Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland’s idea broached in March of enacting a policy that would have banned “significant others” from serving simultaneously on the council and the city’s two most significant panels.

Subsequently, Councilwoman Ellie Haviland and Councilman Dwight Worden presented a counter proposal that they said would have clarified the status quo.

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According to the city attorney, state law allows spouses, partners and family members to serve simultaneously on councils and auxiliary decision-making panels, as long as they, on a case-by-case basis, avoid participating in decisions where conflicts of interest could arise.

In Monday’s session, the council did not take more residents’ comments because the public hearing had been closed when the council last discussed the issue on May 20. Druker limited each council member Monday to five minutes to state their viewpoints.

Worden appealed to his colleagues to back off the issue, which has enflamed the community and prompted dozens of heated public comments and letters.

“I think at this point this has become so politicized that we just need to turn the flame down a bit,” he said. “Therefore, my current position is no policy. ... We should just let the status quo remain, and the status quo has worked in this town for 60 years.”

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The debate among council members as well as residents ignited around the expiration of Tim Haviland’s four-year term on the Design Review Board.

Haviland, the husband of councilwoman Ellie Haviland, was appointed to the board in 2015, while his wife was elected by Del Mar’s voters to the council in November 2016.

Apparently, many City Hall observers assumed Tim Haviland would not reapply for his review board post when his four-year term expired.

Longtime residents contended the situation was unprecedented and alleged it violated a longstanding unwritten tradition in which family members have avoided applying for city positions when their relatives were council members.

In April, when the council members considered the review board appointment, Ellie Haviland abstained from the discussion and vote. The remaining council members split over the decision. Worden and Councilwoman Sherryl Parks favored Tim Haverland. Druker and Gaasterland voted for Karen Lare.

As a result, the city clerk reopened the application period, and Haviland did not reapply.

In the council’s June 5 consideration of the appointment, a majority voted to name political newcomer Jason Dempsey to fill the vacancy.


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