The Santa Maria City Council failed to agree Tuesday night on how to fill its fifth seat, which will remain vacant for at least another three weeks until the council meets again.
The four members of the new council didn’t seem to have changed their stances that forced them to deadlock and then continue the matter from last month’s meeting.
Mayor Alice Patino and City Councilman Bob Orach reiterated strong feelings Tuesday night in favor of immediately filling the remaining two years of Patino’s four-year term by appointing Etta Waterfield, who narrowly lost her election bid for the council as the third-highest vote-getter.
The council was again deadlocked 2-2 in favor of an application process. Council members voted 4-0 to continue the matter once more until the Feb. 5 meeting.
The dozen community members who shared their views were equally divided on the best, fair way to fill the seat.
Six speakers were for appointing Mike Cordero, who stepped down from his council seat last month after an unsuccessful bid for mayor.
Four others wanted to immediately appoint Waterfield because she was pushed out for third place by just two votes, and about the same number said they preferred an interview and application process or special election that would cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.
“It’s time for this City Council to get on with business,” one native Santa Marian said in support of Waterfield. “It’s time to get the politics out of the way.”
Many urged Zuniga to break the stalemate because they would have been fighting for her if she had come in third place instead of first in November’s election.
Another community member equated November’s race to a sporting event, saying, “Whether you lose by one point or 30 points, you lost.”
Cordero also spoke, saying he was humbled by so many endorsements.
“I want to just renew my interest in being reappointed,” he said.
Haydon noted that another option the council has is taking no action, which would leave just four council members on the dais until the next election in December 2014.
Council members said they’ve lost sleep over the matter and have been stopped on the street by many citizens concerned with their inability to act.
Zuniga called the application process the “most transparent” process.
Patino and Orach said they did not want to “shaft” the 9,217 voters who wanted Waterfield on the council.
“I think the votes have been cast,” Patino said, noting that she voted for Waterfield. “I think that we need to do an appointment. I would like to do that appointment tonight. I don’t really know what the definition is of the best qualified. I think we need to get going with business of the city and not be polarized.”
After the application process deadlock, City Attorney Gilbert Trujillo cautioned council members that “any interested person” could demand and prompt a special election if the council takes no action, according to law.
As a final attempt at compromise, Boysen threw in the name Gayle Pratt, a recreation parks commissioner, for an immediate appointment vote.
The council deadlocked again, with Boysen and Zuniga in favor of the appointment and Patino and Orach against.
Haydon suggested that the council continue the meeting once more to see if any other applicant names could be put up for a vote.
“We’ve been here before,” Boysen said. “Is there any need to continue this item?”
Haydon said other names could come up, citing that Orach had earlier mentioned that the recently retired mayor Larry Lavagnino would make a good addition to the council.
“Otherwise, you’re boxed into a corner,” Haydon said.