Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include comments from Councilmember Chris Hamm
By Shawn Raymundo
With former Mayor Dan Bane no longer in office, the San Clemente City Council is expected to get a shake-up in leadership on Tuesday, May 5, as the four remaining councilmembers are slated to appoint one member to the mayoral position, as well as select a new mayor pro tem—a position currently held by Councilmember Laura Ferguson.
The council was initially scheduled to elect a new mayor during its previous regular meeting on April 21, Bane’s last night at the helm. As the meeting began to creep past 11:30 p.m., a decision was made to table that discussion until the May 5 meeting.
Bane—who, as the mayor pro tem in 2019, became acting mayor of San Clemente in the wake of Mayor Steve Swartz’s untimely death last year—was officially appointed mayor by his colleagues this past December.
The positions of mayor and mayor pro tem are traditionally set by the council every December and last for about a full year.
However, when the council on April 28 met via teleconference for a special session to discuss the potential reopening of the city’s active parks, Councilmember Chris Hamm proposed that the council discuss the election of a new mayor pro tem at the next official meeting.
Councilmember Gene James seconded that motion, officially placing the item for discussion on the May 5 meeting agenda, colloquially referred to as agendizing.
While chairing the special council meeting as acting mayor, Ferguson told San Clemente Times that she was caught off guard by the move to potentially oust her from the mayor pro tem seat.
“It was out of left field,” Ferguson said of Hamm’s motion, noting that the ordeal had caused her to slip up on the council procedure that allows for such motions to be agendized without a roll-call vote if another councilmember seconds it.
“I even slipped up procedurally. I called for a vote,” she continued, adding: “You just simply need to have a second . . . it threw me into a tailspin.”
Hamm on Tuesday, May 5, explained that he proposed the motion to select a new mayor pro tem to coincide with the selection of the new mayor. He noted that there’s a possibility Ferguson could be promoted to the mayoral position, in that case requiring a new mayor pro tem.
“So, if tonight the mayor pro tem is elevated to the position of mayor, we’re going to need someone in the position of mayor pro tem,” he said, also explaining that it was Bane who had agendized the discussion for the new mayor for the April 21 meeting prior to his exit from the council.
“The outgoing mayor was the one who agendized the discussion of the mayor, so the fact that he didn’t agendize the discussion of mayor pro tem seemed very odd,” Hamm said, adding, “Because in the past 12 months we’ve lost two mayors, at this point we need to have a contingency plan.”
In an email, James indicated to the SC Times that he was unable to respond as of this posting due to a scheduling conflict.
Asked what her thoughts were behind the motion, Ferguson said she’s very curious about that and plans to find out why during Tuesday’s meeting.
“You can be certain; I’ll ask on what basis they wish to remove me as mayor pro tem,” Ferguson said. “I’m very curious to know what their intent is or reason for doing it. I sure hope it’s not my free speech. I’m very vocal.”
Ferguson’s vocal nature became the subject of scrutiny this past Friday night, when Hamm accused both Ferguson and James of using their social media platforms to “grandstand” and spread “false information” regarding Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order to close beaches countywide.
The council had convened another special meeting on Friday to discuss the governor’s directive.
When the councilors meet again Tuesday, they will likely call for a special election to fill the open seat on the dais that Bane left last month to take a job in his home state of Missouri.
The special election—the second one in consecutive years—will coincide with the city’s general elections to be held this November. Two seats for four-year terms will be up grabs this fall, in addition to Bane’s vacant seat, which expires in 2022.
To differentiate between the general and the special elections, the city explained that candidates, upon filing their nomination papers, will need to specify whether they’re running for a four-year term or the two-year term. State law, according to the city, bars candidates from running for both open positions.
Councilmembers Hamm and James currently occupy the seats that are up for election on Nov. 3. James won last year’s special election race to fill out the final year of Swartz’s term.
After Swartz’s passing in May of 2019, Ferguson and Bane looked to appoint James as an interim councilmember while the city carried on with the election. Those efforts were blocked in a 2-2 stalemate, with Hamm and Councilmember Kathy Ward opposed.
During the upcoming meeting, the council could make a motion to appoint an interim councilmember. If an interim councilmember is appointed, he or she would hold the seat until November, following the results of the special election.
The city clerk and city treasurer positions will also be up for election; however, on Tuesday, the council is also expected to call for a pair of ballot measures that would allow voters to decide whether those seats should transition into council-appointed ones. Another measure likely to end up on the Nov. 3 ballot will ask voters whether council seats should be limited to two consecutive terms.
Joanne Baade is the current city clerk; the city treasurer position is currently held by Mark Taylor.
According to the city, the potential ballot measures would propose two main questions regarding each seat.
The first would ask whether the offices of the city clerk and city treasurer should be appointive and then followed by “yes” and “no” options. The second question would ask which candidates they support if those particular offices remained elected positions.
According to the city, San Clemente’s contests are estimated to cost between $90,986 and $108,846.
The filing period for candidates interested in running for San Clemente’s elected offices is scheduled to open on July 13 and close on Aug. 7.
The council’s closed session meeting on Tuesday is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. The open session is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. The meeting can be live-streamed on the city’s YouTube channel.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.