Atherton voters will choose their new council member after all: The City Council reaffirmed on Wednesday night (July 17) an earlier vote to call an election rather than appoint someone to the vacant seat.
At the same time, they will be asked to renew the parcel tax that generates some $1.86 million annually for another four years.
The four council members on July 11 voted unanimously to allow voters to fill the seat left open by Jerry Carlson's July 1 resignation, but only after failing to agree on one of seven residents who applied to fill out the term, which ends in December 2014. The council was facing a critical deadline: If an election were to be called for November, paperwork had to be filed with the county by July 15.
With the option to appoint someone and cancel the election still open, however, the council discussed possibilities at Wednesday's meeting, but ultimately opted to follow the advice first voiced by Councilman Cary Wiest last week: Let Atherton residents decide at the ballot box.
Councilman Bill Widmer urged the council to hold open the option to appoint, even as potential candidates for the November election took out papers to run. Because the council could legally appoint someone until Aug. 30 -- 60 days after Mr. Carlson's resignation -- why not keep options open?
Mr. Wiest and Councilman Jim Dobbie argued that the council should stick with its earlier decision. Calling the uncertainty "agonizing" for potential candidates, Mr. Wiest said that "it seems unfair to any of the applicants" to drag out the matter.
Mr. Widmer and Mayor Elizabeth Lewis discussed the possibility of keeping the option to appoint open until just before the filing period for the November election closes on Aug. 9, then make a firm decision on appointment versus election. But ultimately, Ms. Lewis agreed that it would be best to end the uncertainty for residents who might be considering running in November.
On a 3-1 vote, with Mr. Widmer dissenting, the council stated it would no longer consider appointing a fifth council member and would let the election proceed.
On another 3-1 vote, with Councilman Dobbie dissenting, the council voted to place a measure on the ballot asking voters to renew the town's parcel tax for another four years, with no changes in the rate except for an increase for the town's only private club, the Menlo Circus Club.
Most home owners pay $750 annually per parcel, falling into the category of having a home on a parcel between half an acre and less than two acres. But there are a small number of homes on parcels under a half-acre, and owners of those parcels pay less.
Councilman Dobbie argued for a flat rate, a concept supported by Councilman Widmer. But a town-commissioned survey of likely voters indicated that residents are overwhelmingly supportive of renewing the tax, as is. The survey didn't seek opinions about a potential increase.
Mayor Lewis and Councilman Wiest argued that trying to increase the rate, even for a small number of residents now paying below $750, might jeopardize the chances for the tax's renewal, an argument ultimately convincing Mr. Widmer to vote for the tax altered only to increase the Menlo Circus Club's annual rate from $10,000 to $25,000.