City to vote on electing mayor

The Atascadero City Council on Tuesday narrowly gave its OK to include a measure on the November ballot asking voters if they want to elect their mayor.

The measure will also ask whether the mayor’s term should be two years or four.

Atascadero is the only city of the county’s seven that does not allow voters to elect the mayor. Instead, the city rotates the position among the five council members for one-year terms.

If voters approve the measure in November, Atascadero voters can pick their mayor in the 2012 election.

About two years of talk on the mayor issue ended Tuesday with a 3-2 vote. Council members Ellen Beraud and Bob Kelley dissented, saying they couldn’t favor a move that would incur more costs for the city at a time money is already tight.

Kelley also favors getting out of the rotation and having the council appoint its mayor, he said, as the city had from 1979 until 2003.

The move to a mayor elected by the public could cost the city more if the council can’t agree on a replacement within 30 days if a vacancy opens when a midterm member becomes mayor.

The cost for a stand-alone special election would be more than $100,000, according to city staff. If a county election coincides with it, then the price ranges between $35,000 to $85,000 per election, staff said.

“I just can’t fathom spending that kind of money in this economy,” Kelley said Friday.

Councilmen Tom O’Malley and Jerry Clay and Mayor Roberta Fonzi supported putting the choice before the public to see what the majority wants to do.

“Yes. There are risks,” O’Malley said. “But I think it’s important to have an elected mayor.”

In May 2008, Clay first asked the council to consider giving the public the voting power for a mayor, but the council’s majority declined. He has continued to lobby for it.

In April 2009, the council voted 3-2 to direct staff to research the measure for this November’s ballot. On Tuesday, they formally accepted it.

The seats voters will consider this November include those for two council members as well as for city clerk and city treasurer. They include the seats of council members O’Malley and Beraud as well as City Clerk Marcia McClure Torgerson and City Treasurer Joe Modica.

It’s estimated that this November’s election will cost Atascadero $18,000 and an additional $2,000 to add the mayoral measure on the ballot.