Etta Waterfield may have narrowly lost her bid in November’s election for the Santa Maria City Council, but she could take a seat after all depending on how the next City Council decides to fill its soon-to-be vacant seat.
Community members, Mayor Larry Lavagnino and Waterfield herself spoke Tuesday in favor of appointing Waterfield — the third-highest vote-getter in November’s council election — to fill the seat that will open when City Councilwoman Alice Patino takes the mayor’s chair later this month.
Discussion was heard, but no action taken, during Tuesday night’s council meeting, at which City Manager Rick Haydon presented the five-member council with four options.
A newly elected City Council is expected to vote on the decision at its Dec. 18 meeting.
Haydon said the council must either call a special election or appoint someone to serve the remaining two years of Patino’s four-year term within 60 days of the seat opening.
Council members and most of the 11 community members who spoke in the public comment session agreed that spending about $194,250 of taxpayers’ money on a special election would be a waste of time and money.
Haydon told the council they could also appoint someone to fill the seat on a temporary basis until an election is held or take applications from interested individuals to then make an appointment.
Nine of 11 community members spoke in favor of appointing Waterfield, with one person for a special election and another in favor of appointing City Councilman Mike Cordero, whose last meeting was Tuesday after an unsuccessful bid for mayor.
Most referenced the closeness of this year’s council results, which showed Waterfield pushed out for third place by just two votes to incumbent Bob Orach.
“I support the third person winning,” community member Robert Dickerson said. “You see the will of the voters. It’s an issue of fairness. It’s a no-brainer. I would hope that the next City Council does so immediately with a 4-0 vote.”
Community members noted that a precedent has already been set to make an immediate appointment, which is how the council filled three of four such vacancies in the past 20 years — in 1984, 2000 and 2003. All immediate council appointments were the person with the third most votes in the general election, Haydon said.
Waterfield said she hoped the new City Council would consider the closeness of the race.
“I’d appreciate it,” she said.
Haydon noted that the council could decide what to do with the seat after Dec. 18, but it would have to direct staff to begin planning for a special election no later than that date.
After public comment, Cordero said he does have an interest in staying on the council.
“I’m very much interested in continuing to volunteer and serve this council,” Cordero said.
Council members expressed an interest to resolve the situation by the Dec. 18 meeting.
During his last-ever meeting as mayor, Lavagnino said the new council might want to create a city policy for appointment.
“It’s incumbent upon the new council to set a policy for in the future so that these kinds of things don’t happen again,” he said, noting a preference to appoint Waterfield because the results were so close. “I believe it’s a matter of fairness.”