Atascadero council to discuss whether two city jobs should be appointed — not elected

Atascadero’s City Administration Building.
Atascadero’s City Administration Building. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The Atascadero City Council will discuss a proposed November ballot measure to make the city clerk and treasurer positions appointed rather than elected positions.

City staff recommends bringing the issue before voters, saying it ensures all future clerks and treasurers will be qualified for the job and that it will remove political pressure from the equation.

The city clerk and treasurer have been elected two-year positions since the city was incorporated in 1979, according to a city staff report. During its first year as a city, however, staff was not aware of the municipal code and appointed residents to the jobs.

After realizing the error a year later, the first Atascadero City Council placed a measure on the November 1980 ballot asking voters whether the positions should be appointed, a change that must be approved by voters, according to state law.

That measure failed.

City clerks are responsible for recording and maintaining records of public meetings, certifying official records, conducting elections, administering oaths, responding to requests for public records and other duties. City treasurers deposit, secure and maintain all public funds and trust funds, serve on the city’s finance committee and invest the city’s uncommitted funds.

According to the staff report, the clerk and treasurer are paid a $200 monthly stipend and are entitled to receive health benefits valued at $11,300 this year (and an anticipated $14,800 next year). The stipend is set to increase to $400 in January.

Since 1989, the clerk has been a full-time employee in the city manager’s office.

“Therefore, for the last 25 years, our community has had what has felt like a ‘full-time’ city clerk when in actuality, the city manager’s office staff conducts many of the city clerk tasks,” the report reads. The city’s current clerk, Marcia Torgerson, retired from her full-time job as deputy city manager in December 2015 and continues to serve as the elected clerk with her term expiring in December 2018.

Treasurer Gere Sibbach’s term also expires in December 2018.

Under state law, there are only three requirements individuals must meet to run for the elected positions: Be at least 18 years old, live in the city and be a registered voter in Atascadero. The city is prohibited from creating any other requirements.

In supporting an appointed clerk and treasurer, staff said that the clerk’s role has expanded over the years, is “more involved and complex” than the basic duties listed in the government code and fulfills filing obligations.

If approved by the council, the ballot measure would come five years after the San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury released a report on the effectiveness of having appointed clerks and treasurers. The report suggested there are continued risks of electing an unqualified or politically influenced person to the positions, and that the health benefits alone may be motivation for unqualified people to run for the offices.

The staff report says that other cities have changed to appointed positions because of a lack of people wanting to run for the position. According to the report, 73 percent of California’s 482 cities appoint their clerks, and 66 percent appoint their treasurers.

In San Luis Obispo County, Paso Robles is the only other city that elects the positions.

Both Torgerson and Sibbach support the measure.

“While the current city clerk and city treasurer professionally perform their responsibilities, there is no guarantee that any future holder of these positions would have the necessary qualifications and experience, since the only requirements are to be a registered voter and a resident of the City of Atascadero,” the report reads. “When these positions become vacant at some point in the future, it will likely be difficult to find qualified individuals available to run for these positions in a community the size of Atascadero.”

If successful, the change would be effective at the end of Torgerson’s and Sibbach’s terms in December 2018.

Should either resign before that, the elected position would terminate and a new person could be appointed by the city manager.

It will cost the city $3,000 to put the measure on the ballot.