By Kristina Houck
Del Mar and Solana Beach voters might head to the polls in November, but it won’t be to cast a ballot for their local council members.
Rather than hold fall elections, both councils opted to appoint council candidates during two special council meetings on Aug. 20.
There were only two open seats on both councils and only two people filed paperwork in both cities. Under state law, it is permissible to cancel an election and appoint candidates when candidates run unopposed. The cities save money, but canceling the election eliminates the opportunity for write-in candidates to enter the race.
The Del Mar City Council, which met at 4 p.m., voted 3-2 to appoint Councilman Terry Sinnott to his second term and former Del Mar City Attorney Dwight Worden to his first. Worden, who wasn’t present at the meeting, will fill Mayor Lee Haydu’s seat. Haydu decided not to seek a second term due to personal reasons.
Two members of the public spoke in favor of saving money by making the appointments. Del Mar, the smallest city in San Diego County, could save as much as $9,000 by canceling the election.
“The two people that are up are very well liked by everyone,” said Del Mar resident Sharon Feierabend. “We like Terry and we’ve wanted Dwight to run for years. … I think it would be foolish to spend $9,000.”
Resident Wayne Dernetz, however, urged the council to hold the election.
“The expenditure of $8,000 or $9,000 to provide people with an opportunity to exercise their absolute right to vote is a small enough investment in community support, building up the community and promoting civic engagement,” said Dernetz, who also sent city officials an email asking them to hold the election.
Sinnott and Deputy Mayor Al Corti voted against the appointments.
“I think the election is a validation for the candidates and the public that the elected city council members are true representatives of the people,” Sinnott said.
With a number of major projects on the horizon, including city hall and a master plan for Del Mar Shores Park, Sinnott said he is “worried it will be difficult to represent the majority of the community” if he is appointed rather than elected.
“I did not file candidate papers to be appointed to the council,” he added. “I filed to be elected by the voters.”
This is the first time Del Mar has canceled an election.
Haydu noted when she and Sinnott ran in 2010, a third candidate, Jim Tucker, was on the ballot but eventually ended his bid for office. When Councilman Don Mosier ran in 2008, and again in 2012 with Corti and Councilwoman Sherryl Parks, there were other local ballot measures, she said.
In this election, potential candidates Kevin Burke and Paul Von Petersen pulled nomination papers but ultimately decided not to file, leaving Sinnott and Worden unopposed.
“What you’re asking us to do is have an election so that you are elected and not appointed, and there’s nothing else on the ballot for us to vote on for the city of Del Mar,” Haydu said. “To me, I think that’s asking a lot.”
Although canceling an election is a first for Del Mar, neighboring Solana Beach has now opted for appointments over elections three times since 2008.
The Solana Beach City Council, which met at 5:30 p.m., also voted 3-2 in favor of appointments. The newly appointed council members are incumbent Mike Nichols, who was first elected to the council in 2006, and newcomer Ginger Marshall, who was in attendance. She will fill the seat held by Mayor Thomas Campbell, who said he would not seek a sixth term following his appointment in 2010.
Campbell and Councilman David Zito voted against the appointments, with Campbell noting he has a record of voting against appointments because he feels “the write-in process is part of the democratic process.”
Nevertheless, the majority of the council favored canceling the election, which could save Solana Beach, the second smallest city in the county, as much as $12,000.
“There’s spending money on foolish things and then there’s spending money on worthwhile things,” Deputy Mayor Lesa Heebner said. “When there’s a foregone conclusion that there are two people in the race and two seats, why would you spend the taxpayers’ money when you already know that there are going to be those same two people in the seat and both of them are going to be mayor?”
Six community members addressed the council, with three asking council members to move forward with the election. Campbell noted the city also received 14 emails from residents in favor of appointments.
Patrick Germon and Shannon Lerach also pulled nomination papers. Germon decided not to run early on, but Lerach decided not to file just before the deadline.
Solana Beach residents Jim Nelson and Mary Jane Boyd said they were under the impression there would be three candidates; therefore, they said an election should take place to allow for write-in candidates to qualify for consideration.
“The current negative political climate in this city has created a concern that people do not want to run for public office in Solana Beach. That is really a sad commentary on our city,” Boyd said. “I’m here to ask you to please vote in favor of an election. This will protect the legal right of voters to participate in a write-in campaign.”
The deadline to file nomination papers in both Del Mar and Solana Beach was Aug. 8, but was extended by five days because both incumbents did not file in either city.
Solana Beach resident Gerri Retman-Opper reiterated that potential candidates had five additional days to file papers.
“Anybody could have jumped into this race,” Retman-Opper said. “The likely outcome, if we put this to a ballot, is that these two people are going to win. That’s been proven over time. I don’t think there’s any situation I can think of where a write-in candidate has prevailed. I think this is an opportunity to just stir up a little trouble.”
“If there were more candidates interested, they would have submitted their papers,” resident Gary Martin added. “It’s pretty well known in the community right now that we’ve got two candidates for two spots.”
Sinnott and Worden will take the oath of office and begin their four-year term in Del Mar on Dec. 2, with Nichols and Marshall taking the council dais to begin their four years in Solana Beach on Dec. 10.