The City of Santa Maria began a new chapter Tuesday night, with a new mayor, new council members and a new permanent police chief.
In a night of speeches, fighting back tears, and wishes of thanks and congratulations, the City Council bid farewell to longtime, retiring Mayor Larry Lavagnino and City Councilman Mike Cordero, who stepped down after an unsuccessful bid for mayor.
City Councilwoman Alice Patino moved a seat to her left into the mayor’s chair as the only woman in city history to do so.
Councilman Bob Orach, new Councilwoman Terri Zuniga and re-elected City Clerk Patti Rodriguez were also sworn into their positions. Police Chief Ralph Martin was able to remove interim from his title and take an oath to protect the city’s citizens on a permanent basis.
“It’s a very humbling experience getting to sit at this dais,” Patino said to a standing-room-only audience. “Larry didn’t leave a mess for me to clean up. There’s a lot more we can do.”
Once the newly elected council got to work, however, differences kept the four members from making a decision on how and who would serve the remaining two years of Patino’s four-year term.
Patino and Orach felt strongly and voted in favor of immediately appointing Etta Waterfield, who narrowly lost her election bid for the council as the third-highest vote-getter.
Zuniga and Councilman Jack Boysen spoke in favor of accepting applications to subsequently fill the spot by the next council meeting Jan. 15.
Dozens of community members shared their picks for the spot, 16 of which were in favor of appointing Waterfield because she was pushed out for third place by just two votes. Nine others were for placing Cordero back onto the council for some consistency, and a smaller number said they preferred an interview and application process.
Nearly everyone in attendance spoke in favor of forgoing a costly special election to save the city taxpayers thousands of dollars.
“Madam mayor. I like the sound of it,” said Bob Morrison, a city resident who called appointing Waterfield a “no-brainer.” “Do your job. Do the right thing.”
Waterfield also spoke, offering an explanation to those who think she isn’t ready for the task of councilwoman.
“As far as appointing someone who has lack of knowledge, I come with a lot of knowledge,” said Waterfield, who sits on the city Planning Commission. “I’ve been around. I’m just not someone who would step up and not know what she’s doing.”
Cordero also expressed interest is staying on the council, noting that he has had “a great ride” and is looking forward to continue serving in some way.
Patino offered her opinion on the topic for the first time, saying that to ignore those who voted for Waterfield would be arrogant.
“I cannot dismiss the votes of 9,217,” she said. “Santa Maria is known for being fair and honest, and I think that’s what we need to do. It does not seem practical.”
Boysen and Zuniga rallied behind an application process, though neither discounted Waterfield’s ability to serve.
“I’ve received a lot of input on this subject,” Boysen said. “The fact is, the ultimate decisions of the voters have been made. I really would like to see this application process.”
Zuniga noted that the council in the future should consider coming up with a policy to remedy these situations.
After two deadlock votes of 2-2 — for appointing Waterfield and for an application process — the council voted to continue a vote until the Jan. 15 meeting.
City Manager Rick Haydon cautioned the council that the options in January would be identical to those considered Tuesday night.
“We need to make a decision no later than Feb. 16,” Haydon said.