Cambria is looking at the possibility of a special election after the community services board failed for a second time to agree on an appointee to fill a seat left vacant by Greg Sanders’ resignation.
The board adjourned after three hours Monday, concluding a special meeting that had been continued after six hours without a decision a week earlier.
Now, directors will reconvene at noon Tuesday, Dec. 19, to consider one — or both — of two possible ways forward:
▪ Attempt once again to find a candidate that more than two directors can support to fill the vacant seat, or
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▪ Call a special election to let the voters decide.
Such an election could be held June 5, in conjunction with the next regularly scheduled election, at a cost of $10,000 to $20,000, according to Tim Carmel, the district’s counsel.
(Ironically, directors Aaron Wharton and Jim Bahringer suggested the possibility of an election, an idea that had been proposed by some of their critics before the board began seeking to fill the seat by appointment.)
The Dec. 19 meeting will be a new special meeting, rather than a second continuation of the meeting that began Dec. 4. Scheduling a new meeting will allow for new public comment and enable the board to consider the election option, which was not on Monday’s agenda.
The vote to adjourn was 3-1, with board Vice President Harry Farmer dissenting.
“What makes us think that we are going to move to another date and have a different outcome?” Farmer asked. Then, after the vote was taken, he added: “We have abdicated our responsibility to the ratepayers of this community to regain their trust and not make us a laughingstock.”
More 2-2 votes
During the three-hour session Monday, the board considered six candidates — two of them for the second time — and deadlocked 2-2 each time.
The board began by reconsidering the same two applicants that had received the most attention during the initial six-hour meeting: Tom Gray and Dewayne Lee.
(Gray served as the district’s public information officer from February 2014 to April 2016, while Lee finished fifth in the 2016 election for three seats on the board.)
As they had in that first meeting, directors split 2-2 on both candidates, with Wharton and Bahringer supporting Gray and Farmer joining President Amanda Rice in voting for Lee.
What makes us think that we are going to move to another date and have a different outcome?
Harry Farmer, CCSD director
After the vote on Gray deadlocked, Bahringer and Wharton announced they would not be making any further nominations. Between them, the pair had selected three other applicants for potential consideration the previous week, but declined to offer up any of those names. Both indicated they believed Gray was the clear choice.
“I see it as we have a clear number one, in my mind,” Wharton said, referring to Gray. “And to step down to (number) 3, 4, 5 or 6 – I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
Rice then nominated Dennis Perry, one of the applicants on her short list, and Farmer joined her in support. Bahringer and Wharton, however, voted “no.”
This led to an odd turn of events, in which Rice nominated (and Farmer seconded) an applicant who had initially appeared on Bahringer’s short list: David Pierson.
If these two candidates are so popular, and they’re dividing the board this much, I say, let them run.
Aaron Wharton, CCSD director
“We are nominating and seconding someone that the other side has chosen,” Farmer said. “It’s called compromise.”
But Wharton and Bahringer both opposed Pierson’s nomination, putting the board back at square one. The pair suggested that the board consider ending its deliberations and calling a special election.
“We have two very popular candidates,” Wharton said, referring to Gray and Lee. “We can operate as a four-person board for six months. … If these two candidates are so popular, and they’re dividing the board this much, I say, let them run.”
He said (and Carmel later confirmed) that an election would cost $10,000 to $20,000.
Rice, however, spoke against that idea. “We need to be grown-ups and take responsibility to this community and select one of these people that applied,” she said. “If you want a stalemate that is going to force an election, I don’t think this speaks very well of this board. …”
Herrier, Dean nominated
Roughly two hours into the meeting, the board took a 10-minute break before resuming deliberations. At that point, Wharton nominated Mark Herrier, a Cambria resident who serves as president of the Lompoc Theatre Project board. Herrier, who also applied for the previous vacancy on the board, had been out of town for the previous week’s session but appeared on Wharton’s short list as well as Bahringer’s.
Bahringer seconded the nomination, and Herrier appeared before the board for a lengthy series of questions, describing himself as “the guy in the middle.”
“You already have a Justice Thomas and a Justice Roberts,” he said, comparing the divided board to the U.S. Supreme Court. “We have a Justice Ginsberg and a Justice Kagan. What you need is a Justice Kennedy. What you need is someone in the middle.”
As when other applicants were questioned a week earlier, the dominant topic was the district’s $13 million water plant — referred to variously Monday as the Emergency Water Supply, Sustainable Water Facility and Advanced Water Treatment Plant.
Herrier said he didn’t care if it was called “the Bozo the Clown water facility.” He said the plant was too costly and that mistakes were made in the process of getting it built, but added that “this, warts and all, is what we have. To walk away or pretend it doesn’t exist would be to confirm we wasted $13 million.”
After questioning Herrier, directors cast another split vote, with Bahringer and Wharton voting “yes,” while Farmer and Rice voted “no.” Farmer indicated he would be open to taking a second vote on Herrier later in the meeting, but he was not renominated.
runWe need to be grown-ups and take responsibility to this community and select one of these people that applied.
Amanda Rice, CCSD president
Farmer then nominated Karen Dean, with Rice seconding, but Bahringer and Wharton were opposed.
Rice called Dean “a thoughtful, deliberative individual who, I believe, would bring a sense of balance to this board.
Bahringer, however, said he couldn’t support her: “My biggest concern is her strong support for Harry Farmer and being his campaign manager” in the 2016 election.
After considering Dean’s nomination, the board set the Dec. 19 date for its next special meeting to consider the vacancy and the possibility of a special election if directors can’t agree on an applicant. That meeting will be at noon at the Cambria Veterans Memorial Building.