CITY HALL — One can see the portents of election season popping up all over Santa Monica.
Lawn signs emblazoned with the names of hopeful candidates are sprouting in green grass and eco-friendly native plant gardens in equal measure and engaged citizens might as well throw darts at a calendar to see what candidates’ forum or issue-centric discussion they’re likely to attend that night.
It’s what has been described as the “busy season” for Santa Monica’s City Clerk’s Office, the section of government that acts as the custodian of democracy by providing the window through which the public can scrutinize their candidate’s finances or a ballot measure’s worthiness before making their fateful choices in November.
Sarah Gorman, Santa Monica’s new city clerk, could be intimidated. Instead, she seems energized.
“It is so fun to be here right in the middle of elections because everyone’s watching, everybody cares,” Gorman said. “This is what clerks live for, to be involved in helping the citizenry be involved with selecting their governors. We love that stuff.”
Gorman, 38, took over the City Clerk’s Office on Sept. 4 following the retirement of 16-year veteran Maria Stewart. Santa Monica poached her from Santa Clarita, where she’d served as city clerk for two years after a stint as a deputy city attorney.
It was a passion for the electoral process that drove her to both positions, first as an attorney for a private law firm that contracted out it services to cities and later as a bona fide municipal employee herself.
Gorman studied political science and English during her undergraduate time at the University of Southern California, went on to get her law degree from the same school and then took a position in an election law firm.
She wasn’t intimately familiar with the job description of city clerk prior to joining up with the firm, but as Gorman started working with governments to put out fires, she became better acquainted with clerks and what they did.
It seemed to her a more interesting way to engage with elections and democracy, which was, in the end, why she’d taken positions in an elections law firm and later municipal law firm in the first place.
“I really wanted to be involved in the whole process,” Gorman said. “If you’re an election lawyer, you just get called in on Election Day because something has gone squirrely.”
Her expertise in both areas flagged her as an attractive candidate for Santa Monica, said Sherrill Uyeda, a partner at executive headhunting firm Alliance Resource Consulting.
Santa Monica is one of the most unique cities in the nation with its diverse and engaged citizenry, high-end mix of businesses and coastal issues, Uyeda said.
“For Santa Monica, the City Council really wanted someone who was progressive and hands-on,” Uyeda said. “The City Council wanted someone who was going to collaborate with the city manager, the city attorney and the management team as well.”
To find that mystery person who could balance the normal demands of the job with Santa Monica residents’ constant calls for transparency and information, Alliance put out the call through its networks and placed advertisements in addition to creating a short list of potential candidates.
When Gorman got the call, she was thrilled.
“I’ve always been captivated by Santa Monica,” Gorman said. “As a city clerk, it’s the perfect place to be.”
Santa Monica residents are widely known for their passion for local politics and their desire for more information and transparency, something that Gorman is passionate about providing.
“People actually watch your meetings, care what’s on the ballot and look at campaign finance statements,” she said. “We are constantly working to provide that information to people, so to be in a community where folks are really engaged is every clerk’s dream.”
This is the first time that Gorman — a native of Philadelphia — has resided in Santa Monica, but she was already a fan of the city by the sea. Her family traveled to the Southland during the summer, spending time in beach cities up and down the coast.
Her father and she took guitar lessons at McCabe’s Guitar Shop on Pico Boulevard and she considers it one of the best places in all of Los Angeles. She and her husband Douglas recently bought bicycles to better explore the city, although she’s still working up the courage to attach a baby seat for her 18-month-old daughter, Amelia.
Santa Monica seemed a great place for the new family who is playing board games like Forbidden Island and dressing Amelia in “Star Wars” outfits when they’re not serving the public or working at a tech firm in Century City.
“It’s a unique space full of caring, interested people that you couldn’t find — and probably couldn’t survive — anywhere else,” Gorman said.