The Design Review Board broke with tradition at the April 8 meeting when a majority elected alternate member Ken Sadler as the chairman.
Sadler’s election is the first time an alternate has been seated as chair.
He will be able to vote on a project only when regular members are absent or excuse themselves from participating in a project due to conflicts and he will sit as chairman only under the same circumstances, according law. Otherwise, he will have to step aside for the chair pro tem.
“It will be more like co-chairmanship,” said Ilse Lenschow, a board member since 1996. “He brings something to the board that no one else does. He is very analytical and he is an engineer.”
Besides, Lenschow said, she feared Sadler would resign from the board if not given the chairmanship.
The vote was 3 to 2, Leslie LeBon and Michael Wilkes dissenting.
Community Development Director John Montgomery did not favor the election of an alternate as chairman and informed board members of his opinion.
“I just wanted to throw my two cents into this upcoming election,” Montgomery said in an e-mail to board members. “Please consider the silly logistics that will occur at the meetings of electing an alternate as chair or chair pro tem. It is just not a good idea.”
Sadler was appointed alternate by the council in October. He was the chair pro tem at the time, with the expectation of being elected chairman by the board for the next term under usual procedures.
However, he received the least votes of the three incumbents who reapplied for the committee. Wilkes, who was the board alternate at the time, received four votes, followed by Caren Liuzzi, and both were reappointed as regular members.
Lenschow said she and Liuzzi had encouraged Sadler to seek reappointment.
“We more or less twisted his arm and a majority of us felt bad about the demotion,” Lenschow said. “It was kind of an insult. And he said he would resign under the circumstances.”
Sadler was unavailable for comment by deadline.
Councilman Kelly Boyd said Monday he intends to discuss with City Manager Ken Frank possibly including the situation on the April 20 agenda.
“Maybe we need to plug a loophole or perhaps eliminate the alternate position,” Boyd said.
Design Review is the only council-appointed board or commission that has an alternate. There is no law prohibiting the election of that person as chair, City Atty. Philip Kohn advised the staff in a March 2 e-mail to Montgomery. Kohn also outlined logistical consequences that needed to be taken into account.
“[Alternates] could not act as chair unless they are participating in the absence of regular members,” Kohn said Monday. “If there is a recusal then he can vote and chair the meeting.”
In the case of multiple recusals, Sadler and Liuzzi, who was elected chair pro tem, would alternate.
“It could create an appearance of musical chairs and might be unsettling,” Kohn said.
As a general rule, chairs and chairs pro tem of boards, commissions and committees and the city’s mayors and mayors pro tem rotate by seniority, although not by law and not always. Elizabeth Pearson was elected to two consecutive terms as mayor during the 2005 landslide recovery. Steven Dicterow served two consecutive terms as mayor and Martha Collison served consecutive terms as mayor pro tem, declining to be mayor.
If the usual custom had been followed, Le Bon would have been chairwoman and Wilkes the chairman pro tem.
“It’s like a Moliere farce in some ways,” said Peter Navarro, husband of board member Le Bon. “I intend to bring it up at the City Council meeting during public comment at the April 20 meeting.”
Navarro brought the unusual board action to the attention of the Coastline Pilot and also forwarded e-mails to the paper from Kohn to Montgomery and from Montgomery to the board.
A second e-mail from Kohn, also dated March 2, dealt with the possibility that board members may have been speaking outside of a public meeting concerning the impending election of a chair and chair pro tem.
Kohn said he had not made inquiries and did not know if any such discussions had taken place.
But, he wrote, the state law forbids a majority of the board members to engage in such discussions outside of public meetings, collectively or sequentially, and Montgomery might wish to remind the members of Brown Act requirements.
That e-mail was labeled private and confidential, but the city manager said it is now considered a public document.
Lenschow denied any violation of the Brown Act.
“Our by-laws require us to have a meeting at least two weeks before our election at which members declare their candidacy,” Lenschow said. “We had an open discussion at that time. We don’t need to have a discussion outside of a meeting because we all know who the candidates are.”
Lenschow said the first meeting under Sadler’s chairmanship went off without a hitch.
“Robin Zur Schmiede told us she would be leaving because she and her husband had planned a trip, but she wanted to be there for the election,” Lenschow said.
Zur Schmiede’s departure allowed Sadler to sit as chairman for the remainder of the agenda.