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Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to accurately reflect Councilmember Ward’s position on the topic of transitioning the city clerk and city treasurer to appointive positions. Ward advised her colleagues on the dais not to change the status quo, to avoid a scenario where the two positions would be under the city council’s control.

By C. Jayden Smith

San Clemente’s offices of city treasurer and city clerk will remain elected positions for the foreseeable future, as was decided by the City Council in a 4-1 vote last week.

Mayor Pro Tem Chris Duncan was the lone opponent to the motion during the council’s Jan. 18 meeting.

The council had the option to add two ballot measures to either the General Election on Nov. 8 or to a special election coinciding with the state’s June 7 Primary Election that would have asked voters whether to make the two offices appointive.

It would have cost an additional $22,000 for the city to consolidate its municipal election in the fall with that of Orange County, including $8,500 per measure and $5,000 for other election costs, along with the budgeted $89,276 to $128,933.

To consolidate the special election, the city would have needed to add $170,500 to its fiscal year 2021-22 budget.

Councilmember Kathy Ward said that when the decision came to a previous City Council for a possible vote, it chose not to vote on whether to transition the offices because an election would politicize both, and alter their independent nature.

She advised the other councilmembers not to change the status quo, to avoid a future in which the two positions are underneath the city council’s control.

“Every single election, the residents can decide whether they’re doing a good job or not and choose to reelect them or not,” Ward said. “I would ask you to leave that (as) the same.”

Councilmember Steve Knoblock agreed that the offices should remain independent, but also referred to previous treasurer’s financial work under the city manager at the time.

“That takes an independently elected official and (puts) them under the jurisdiction, the authority, and the thumb of the city manager,” Knoblock said. “I think to appoint these people, the treasurer or the clerk, by the City Council basically does the same thing.”

In also referencing City Clerk Joanne Baade’s position that used to also be part of the city manager’s staff, Knoblock proposed a prohibition of any elected official being under the jurisdiction of the city manager, and to expand the city treasurer role to add financial oversight, to be addressed down the line.

Mayor Pro Tem Chris Duncan differed from his colleagues in that he viewed the treasurer and clerk roles to be administrative in nature, saying it would make sense to transform those into governmental positions under the direction of the city manager.

He added that he was leery of having independently elected treasurers and clerks, citing the City of Huntington Beach’s ongoing struggle with its own elected city attorney.

Approving the addition of a ballot measure would put the decision in the voters’ hands, Duncan said. By choosing to continue to elect, residents would “have some risk that (they) could get someone perhaps unqualified or with motives that might not be in good faith.”

Ward’s motion for the council to not add the ballot measure was seconded by Knoblock, and Duncan made a substitute motion to add the measure to the November election, which failed in a 3-2 vote. Mayor Gene James and Duncan were the two yes votes for Duncan’s substitute motion.

C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.

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