Council has opened applications for filling the now vacant seat left by the resignation of former Councilman Tony Vazquez and while the process is more public than in the past, local watchdogs say more should be done to provide clarity on the qualifications for appointees.
Residents can apply to fill the City Council seat left vacant by Tony Vazquez until Thursday, Jan. 17 through an online application.
The application asks Council hopefuls about their experience and qualifications as well as their vision for Santa Monica. The Santa Monica Transparency Project says the process will be more transparent than it has in the past, but Council has not been clear enough about the criteria they will use to appoint a new councilmember.
Transparency Project chair Mary Marlow said the online application process is an improvement from the last time Council appointed a new member. When Terry O’Day was selected in 2010, potential appointees submitted their applications directly to Council and the public was unable to read them.
This time, applicants’ responses to the questionnaires will be posted online. Council will nominate and vote on appointees without secret ballots at an open meeting, said Councilmember Kevin McKeown.
Marlow said she thinks those transparency measures stop short of informing the public about what Council is actually looking for in a new member.
“There’s no accountability as to what they’re looking for,” she said. “The application doesn’t list what skills they need. Are they just going to pick whomever they like best?”
Even though candidates will detail their background on the application, Marlow said she thinks Council should establish exactly which skills and qualifications it’s looking for, such as budget experience, community involvement and experience working in a group.
“What weight are (Council) putting on different parts of the questionnaire?” she said. “We want Council to give us some idea of what they’re prioritizing, because a lot of smart, qualified people are going to apply.”
McKeown said there will be no mystery to the appointment process.
“The councilmembers’ decision making will be almost painfully public and transparent,” he said. “While this is understandably difficult for the various nominees who see their fortunes rise and fall over what will probably be multiple votes before the Council eventually chooses a new colleague, the public will be able to track the shifting move toward an eventual majority every step of the way.”
Councilmember Sue Himmelrich said she doesn’t think setting up a rubric of a specific set of criteria to judge applicants against is feasible because Council can’t predetermine what qualities it’s looking for.
“What are we going to say, that you have to have a bachelor’s degree or have served on a city board or commission?” she said. “I don’t think that would be necessary. If I thought hard, I could think of a couple of (qualities) I’d like to see in an ideal world, but I think other councilmembers voting might have different views.”
Councilmember Ted Winterer said even if Council were to establish criteria for appointment, it would be unable to do so before its next meeting because it would have to hear from the public.
“I suppose we could discuss criteria at the meeting on (Jan. 22), but it would be unfair to those who choose to seek the appointment to impose standards after the application window closes,” he said.
Councilmember Tony Vazquez formally resigned Jan. 7 to take a seat on the State Board of Equalization, which oversees taxes. Vazquez began his most recent term in 2012 after serving on Council in the early 1990s.