To avoid a costly special election, the Paso Robles City Council will likely appoint someone to fill Steve Martin’s midterm council seat when he becomes mayor Dec. 2.
The four council members who will decide how and who to pick said this week they likely won’t hold a special election, which, according to the city, could cost at least $95,000.
“Going for a special election is not in my options at all,” Councilman John Hamon said. “We don’t need that high of an expense.”
And, while appointment may be the goal, who the council will choose remains the big question.
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“The vote was split so tight, I think each person lays claim to being who the voters wanted,” Martin said.
In the Nov. 4 race for two council seats, all five candidates received 18 percent to 22 percent of the vote apiece, according to final election results certified Wednesday.
The top two vote-getters, incumbent John Hamon and newcomer Jim Reed, were elected to the two open council seats.
Council members have indicated they’re likely to pick the third-place finisher to fill Martin’s council seat, once he vacates it to become mayor. But that’s not a done deal.
Reed won the second seat with 2,606 votes, followed by Duane Picanco, who trailed Reed by 14 votes.
Behind Reed by 20 votes was newcomer Pam Avila. And, 212 votes behind her was Planning Commissioner Steve Gregory.
Picanco, Avila and Gregory all told The Tribune that they would like a shot at the mid-term seat.
Picanco, the city’s five-time mayor opted to run for a council seat, saying he wanted more time for family and less time devoted to mayoral public appearances. Voters in 2012 decided the mayor's term should be extended from two to four years starting this year.
“In the campaign, the council was urged by several members of the community to go with the third highest vote getter for that seat,” Martin said. “In the spirit of staying true to that, then I would support Duane.”
Councilman Fred Strong, Reed and Hamon all agreed that selecting the third-place candidate seemed to be what the community wants, but the trio also said they plan to go into the Dec. 2 meeting with an open mind.
Avila and Gregory said it’s clear from the tight race that voters want to see some fresh faces on the council.
However, losing Picanco could put Paso Robles in a position where it loses having a city representative on the regional board that will eventually oversee the formation of a water district to manage the Paso Robles groundwater basin, the city’s main source of water.
The Local Agency Formation Commission includes representatives from the county, the cities, special districts and the public, each with four-year terms. Picanco currently represents the board’s city designation, and his term expires in December 2015.
If Picanco is not serving on a city council, he loses his LAFCO seat, and his position would be up for grabs by any city council member among the county’s seven cities, commission officials said.
“Having been seated on LAFCO, I have the background and experience of how districts are formed and what the mitigation measures potentially could be,” Picanco said. “I just want to make sure that Paso Robles’ interests are served.”
By choosing to appoint, the council can make a decision the night of Dec. 2 or interview people for the position at a later date. The council has up to 60 days from Dec. 2 to decide.
It’s not the first time in recent memory that a Paso Robles City Council race came so close. In 2008, former councilman Gary Nemeth lost the mayoral seat to Picanco by just 41 votes.