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Williams’ Election to Assembly Leaves Vacancy on City Council

Das Williams plans to resign Dec. 5, and the council has until early January to appoint a new member

Updating Santa Barbara’s General Plan and addressing the city’s budgetary woes are contentious matters that will continue to dominate Santa Barbara City Council agendas in the near future. But what may be most captivating is the question of who will replace Councilman Das Williams after he was elected Tuesday night to represent the 35th Assembly District.

Section 503 of the Santa Barbara City Charter says a vacancy “shall be filled by appointment by the City Council within 30 days of the occurrence of the vacancy.”

Williams will resign Dec. 5, the day before the Democrat is sworn in to the Assembly. Until then, he can still attend council meetings, according to Santa Barbara Assistant Administrator Marcelo Lopez. Williams was barred by term limits from seeking a third term on the council.

Mayor Helene Schneider said the council will vote on a proposed appointment process at next week’s meeting. Applications will be available the next day and will be due Nov. 29. The council will hold public interviews on Dec. 7, and a four-vote majority is needed to appoint someone who has “the best interest of the city and will serve the city well,” Schneider said.

“We’re making the process as open and transparent as we possibly can, always allowing the opportunity for public comment,” she said.

An appointment has happened before — just ask Phil Bugay, senior vice president and profile manager at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney.

Bugay was appointed to the council after then-Mayor Hal Conklin was asked to step down over a “term-limits issue,” and Councilwoman Harriet Miller took his place as mayor in 1993, Bugay said.

Complicating the matter was the city’s involvement in an Orange County bankruptcy scandal, but Bugay said his financial background and comfort working on public policy helped the city navigate the fiscal crisis during his year on the council. He said the person who fills Williams’ vacant seat should be prepared to make necessary tough decisions.

“It should be someone who would be considered a student of local city governance and realistic about the amount of time they are able to commit,” said Bugay, adding that he was a member of about 10 boards, committees and commissions.

How easily the newcomer will adjust depends on the person, Bugay said.

“It depends on who ends up in the seat,” he said. “Das was a strong personality, and the fact that he won’t be there will undoubtedly change the conversation.”

Councilman Dale Francisco said the difficult budget year ahead requires someone who is up to speed on matters such as pensions, crime, mental disability and homelessness.

“You have people out there who are mentally ill or physically disabled and can’t get help because of messed up laws, but there are also people taking advantage of the system,” he said. “It’s a complex issue the city has wrestled with years. That on top of gang activity and recent murders — people are getting to a serious point of concern, and the City Council has to do something.”

The appointment of a new member could provide “political intrigue,” said Jim Youngson, co-founder of Terrain Consulting, a land use and natural resources public relations firm in Santa Barbara founded in 2003. While a strictly aligned candidate might shift the power, it would be best to appoint a “neutral observer to political issues of the day,” said Youngson, citing Bugay as an example.

“Phil was a shining example of a citizen who wanted to give back to the community and didn’t have higher aspirations for the position,” Youngson said. “Although he didn’t promise he wasn’t going to run (the following year), he felt there was a need that had to be filled with major financial issues facing the city. He was a great community leader who filled the gap.”

Terrain Consulting co-founder Brian Robinson agreed.

“The ideal thing would be for someone to fill Das’ vacancy, and not run the next year,” he said. “If it’s perceived as a political move, it will be problematic, particularly with Plan Santa Barbara.”

The City Council will meet Tuesday at Santa Barbara City Hall, 735 Anacapa St.

Noozhawk intern Alex Kacik is a graduate of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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