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Outgoing councilman stays on temporarily
Tuesday’s changing of the guard at City Hall was unprecedented.
Not because some members stepped down or that others were sworn onto the City Council, but unprecedented in the temporary retention of a councilman who was voted off.
Shortly after City Clerk Natalie Butler administered the oath of office to Larry Domenighini and Larry Mello, who took their place next to Vice Mayor Jeff Cobb, the City Council voted 2-1 to confirm the retention of Councilman Gary Hansen until Councilman-elect Bill Spears takes office in January.
Only Mello voted against the motion.
“Five members is always a goal, but can the city do business the next 45 days with only four?” Mello asked. “I say yes.”
Hansen, who lost his seat by a handful of votes in a seven-person race, was absent Tuesday for medical reasons.
Also absent was Terry Taylor-Vodden, who was out of town on a family matter.
“This is a unique circumstance,” said City Manager Steve Holsinger, who said an even number of members can be potentially paralyzing when it comes to doing the city’s business.
But he also acknowledged that at no time has Willows faced a similar situation in which an elected councilman refused to take office on the last meeting in November following an election.
Spears, who was the top vote-getter in the Nov. 6 general election, has deferred acceptance of the oath until after the first of the New Year, when he is no longer chief of police.
Spears said he intends to finish the job he was hired to do until Dec. 30.
“I have a contractual obligation to the city of Willows,” Spears said.
He said he has also put into motion a Dec. 31 retirement with the state’s public employees retirement program, he said, and has every intention of taking office at the first meeting in January, unless something changes.
Spears is still hoping city officials will change their minds about not renewing his contract as police chief for two years, and said he will renegoiate a deal that could save the city money.
Cobb acknowledged Tuesday – after a request for a show of hands – that half the room wanted Spears retained. The other half offered no show of opinion, and no one opposed the idea.
But Cobb allowed no discussion of the idea because Spears’ contract was not on the agenda.
As for Hansen retaining his seat until Spears takes office, Tuesday’s action by the City Council was just a formality, according to Roseville attorney Robert Hunt.
Hunt has been handling the Spears issue – which may include litigation – at the recommendation of City Attorney Gary Krup, who is tied up with two pressing cases for other Glenn County clients.
Hunt said state government code states those holding elected city office shall hold office for their prescribed terms until their “qualified” successors take their place.
Spears, he said, is not qualified to take his seat until he takes the oath of office.
Because members of the council are voted at large, and not as one-on-one successors, the City Council could have chosen to retain either Mayor Vince Holvik or Hansen by lot or some other tie breaker, officials said.
Holvik, however, declined the opportunity to continue.
Domenighini voted in favor of keeping Hansen on only because the government code allows it.
Otherwise, he said, he was not opposed to having an uneven number on the City Council for Dec. 11, which is the last meeting of the year.
As for the public, only Forest Sprague spoke against retaining Hansen, and pointed out that the City Council was not paralyzed when in met several times without Councilwoman Sandie Hobbs, who resigned in August 2011.
The City Council eventually appointed Taylor-Vodden as Hobbs’ replacement the following December.
Sprague speculated the move to keep Hansen for the Dec. 11 meeting is an effort by Holsinger to possibly push an action through on an anticipated 3-2 vote.
Holsinger denied the accusation Wednesday and said he anticipates the Dec. 11 agenda to be routine business, except for the selection of officers and committee assignments.
As Hunt had pointed out, Holsinger affirmed that Hansen would have retained his seat without the formal confirmation because Spears chose to defer taking his place.
Hunt said he found no California litigation or Attorney General opinion that has ever addressed the issue.