After about 30 minutes of discussion, the council voted 5-1 on Tuesday (April 3) to leave the District 7 seat empty and to govern the town with six council members until after the Nov. 6 election.
Councilwoman Anne Kasten dissented. "I think to leave a seat vacant is not good governance," she said. "We owe it to our community to have people representing their districts."
District 7 may be unique in Woodside in that the only ways into and out of the area are twisty two-lane mountainous roads. In recent years, winter rains have washed out sections of the roadbed on state Highway 84, resulting in extended periods of one-lane traffic. The state highway department has had to come in and spend months building retaining walls, the construction of which is still going on.
In a March 9 letter to Mayor Chris Shaw, Mr. Mason said that his professional activities as an architect were proving so demanding that he could no longer meet the demands of serving on the council.
In discussing how and whether to fill the seat, Councilman Dave Tanner, noting that he was appointed to the council in 1999, advocated for appointment. The advantages of an appointed incumbent are "slight," he said. He did suggest that the council wait on making an appointment until there was a sense of whether the election would be contested.
Councilwoman Deborah Gordon argued for leaving the seat empty until November. "We should vigorously encourage people to run for the office," she said. "I think we should vigorously encourage people to run for all the seats, not just that one. We should really make an effort to get people engaged in the town and running and participating."
Councilman Daniel Yost said he was concerned about the incumbency advantage. As for governing with an empty seat, he said that most towns manage it with five council members, and that six members were adequate to the job.
Ms. Gordon chimed in: "Each of us does try and understand and do the best for all of the districts. It's not like we are seven people fighting vehemently for our one area."
Councilman Tom Livermore said he was leaning toward appointing someone. "I hear Anne's argument. I think it's a good one. I also hear the (advantages of) incumbency argument, which I think is true. ... We should, under any circumstances, we should be advertising or soliciting people to run."
District 7 resident Jennifer Smart said she agreed with Ms. Kasten about the importance of being represented. The council needs someone who understands "what it's like to go up and down (Highway) 84 or Old La Honda (Road) ... (and) the challenges and the beauty and the wonder that we all enjoy," she said. "I would feel better knowing that I had a fellow resident bringing our point of view forward."
But District 7 resident Ned Fluet argued that the representative for the district should be chosen by district residents. "I just feel like there's something inherently undemocratic about having six council members appoint someone to represent an area where none of these council members actually live," he told the council. "I'm not trying to dishonor anyone, but if you don't actually live there, you may not know the issues that we're actually facing."
Mayor Shaw dismissed the advantages of incumbency. "I understand the incumbent argument, but if you don't like the person who's running, you run against them, right? You step up and you do that," he said. "I think I lean towards leaving it open, with full acknowledgment that District 7 has distinct needs."
If the election were not until 2020, an appointment would be called for, he said.
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