Atascadero voters to decide whether city clerk and treasurer should be appointed

The Atascadero City Administration Building
The Atascadero City Administration Building David Middlecamp

Come November, it will be up to Atascadero voters to decide whether the city clerk and treasurer positions will continue to be elected by voters or be appointed by the city manager’s office.

On Tuesday night, the Atascadero City Council voted unanimously to direct the city clerk to draft a resolution that the council will formally vote on in June. The resolution would put the issue before voters via two ballot measures — one for each office — asking, “Shall the office of city (clerk/treasurer) be appointive?”

If the measure passes, Atascadero would join a growing number of California cities to select their clerks and treasurers internally; Paso Robles would be the last remaining city in San Luis Obispo County where voters decide who fills the positions.

The city clerk records and maintains records of public meetings, certifies official documents, conducts elections, gives oaths and provides records to the public, among other duties. The city treasurer deposits, secures and maintains all public funds and trust funds; serves on the city finance committee; and is in charge of safely investing the city’s uncommitted funds.

The positions, which have officially been elected since Atascadero’s incorporation in 1979, come with a $200 monthly stipend as well as health benefits valued at $11,300 this year (and an anticipated $14,800 next year), should the person select it. The stipend is set to increase to $400 in January.

The city’s current clerk, Marcia Torgerson, retired from her full-time job as deputy city manager in December 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.

Both support the proposed measure, they told the council Tuesday, agreeing with city staff that it is not only difficult to attract residents interested in the jobs, but also to attract qualified and politically objective candidates in a community the size of Atascadero.

You can have bad appointed officials but you can also fire them. ... It’s much more administrative and there are other ways to have the controls you need.

Atascadero Treasurer Gere Sibbach

According to state law, the only requirements to run for the position include being 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.

According to an Atascadero city staff report, 73 percent of California’s 482 cities appoint their clerks, and 66 percent appoint their treasurers.

“More and more cities are realizing this issue,” Torgerson told the council. “I’ve wanted to give someone else the opportunity to do what I have done. ... If they were interested, I wouldn’t even run. But I’ve (received) no interest.”

“This is an important issue for me because I believe in elected officials,” Sibbach said, noting that he was an appointed treasurer when he worked for Morro Bay. “I think I did a good job. But there is a risk with an appointed or an elected official.”

Sibbach said it came down to whether citizens trust their city manager with hiring the right people.

“You can have bad appointed officials, but you can also fire them,” Sibbach said. “It’s much more administrative, and there are other ways to have the controls you need.”

During the late-night hearing on the issue, no members of the public commented to the council, and no council member voiced any concerns.

The measure will cost the city about $3,000 to place on the ballot, Torgerson said.