Jenelle Osborne was formally sworn in as Lompoc’s new mayor on Thursday night during a special meeting of the Lompoc City Council at which the governing body also set some early parameters on how Osborne’s now-vacated council seat will be filled.
The Council Chambers at Lompoc City Hall were nearly filled as outgoing Mayor Bob Lingl opened his final meeting before ceremoniously passing the gavel to Osborne, whose mayoral victory over Councilman Jim Mosby became official Thursday with the release of Santa Barbara County’s certified results of the Nov. 6 midterm election. Osborne took her oath of office alongside Councilmen Dirk Starbuck and Victor Vega, both of whom were re-elected to their council seats.
Shortly after that brief swearing-in ceremony, the council quickly turned its attention to Osborne’s former council seat. After nearly an hour of discussion, including comment from 13 members of the public, the council voted 4-0 to initiate an appointment process and solicit applications from the community through Jan. 2. The details on how exactly that appointment process will work will be discussed further at the council’s next regular meeting on Dec. 18, according to Thursday’s vote.
Prior to that discussion on the future makeup of the council, however, Lingl said he wanted to “start a tradition” by personally handing the gavel over to Osborne, who had regularly sat to Lingl’s immediate left at council meetings since her election in 2016.
“Jenelle, congratulations,” Lingl said moments before leaving the dais for the final time. “I know you’re going to do well. You’ve got a great council here (and) you’ve got a great public, so congratulations. Serve the public well.”
According to state law, the council must fill Osborne’s former seat within 60 days. The two options that were presented by city staff to go about filling that seat were to hold a special election or set up an appointment process.
A special election would cost the city more than $150,000, according to City Attorney Jeff Malawy, who noted in a presentation to the council that the cost would be higher than normal in large part because Santa Barbara County has no plans to hold any kind of election in 2019. That would mean Lompoc would have to foot the bill of an election all on its own.
Of the residents who offered public comment, all of them supported an appointment process, and several shared concerns and/or suggestions about how that process should play out.
Almost all of the speakers stressed that transparency should be paramount in the process, while several of them advocated for the inclusion of more people of color in the process, which in theory would bring a more diverse range of ideas to the table.
To that latter point, some of the speakers noted that giving priority to minority applicants would continue the goal of the district-based election process, which the city utilized for the first time this year after being threatened with a lawsuit alleging violations of the California Voting Rights Act.
Malawy pointed out during his presentation that the appointee would not have to hail from any particular district. This is due to the fact that Osborne was elected at-large in 2016 before the city transitioned to district-based elections, he said.
The appointment would be for just two years, since Osborne’s City Council term expires in 2020. Any candidates who run for the seat in the 2020 election would need to be from District 1, which encompasses the northern portion of the city.
The council members all seemed to agree that an appointment process would be the most prudent path, but they were unable to settle on exactly how the process would work.
The most recent Lompoc City Council appointment process was in 2014 when Mosby was ultimately selected from a field of 12 applicants that also included Osborne. The council reviewed some aspects of that process on Thursday and discussed some tweaks, particularly in how many votes each of the sitting councilmen and mayor would have and also how many rounds of voting would take place.
Ultimately, the council directed city staff to research how other municipalities have handled similar situations and then continue the discussion at the Dec. 18 regular meeting.
Regardless of the method that is ultimately selected, the council went ahead and decided to prepare questions to send to city administrators to be put onto applications for the seat. Those applications will be made available by the city through Jan. 2. The applications, according to the plan laid out by the council, would then be provided to the mayor and council members by Jan. 4 and then be publicly reviewed along with public interviews of the applicants at a special meeting on Jan. 8.
The 60-day deadline to have someone appointed ends Feb. 4.
While that appointment discussion took up a bulk of Thursday’s meeting, which was followed by an informal reception in the City Hall lobby, the meeting also gave Lingl a chance to offer a public farewell.
Lingl served on the city’s Planning Commission from 2006 to 2008, when he was elected to his first of two four-year terms on the City Council. Midway through his second council term, in 2014, he was elected mayor, and then re-elected in 2016. He chose not to seek re-election this year.
“It’s been an honor to serve the community for the past 12 years,” Lingl said early in Thursday’s meeting before receiving a standing ovation from the audience. “It has been my honor, and my privilege, to serve as your mayor and as a council member and planning commissioner.
“I’m gonna miss this job; it is very, very bittersweet that I’m leaving,” he later added. “I’ve enjoyed it; I’ve hated it — but I’ve enjoyed it more than I’ve hated it. Thank you very much to you in the community for always being around. Those of you who voted for me and those of you who didn’t vote for me, I appreciate all of you. Because without the democratic process we have, we would not have this city, this county, this state, this union.”
According to the county-certified election results, Osborne edged Mosby for the mayor’s seat with 5,243 votes to Mosby’s 5,031. She claimed 50.6 percent of the vote, while Mosby drew support on 48.5 percent of ballots.
Vega claimed victory in District 2 with 1,024 votes to outpace challenger Shirley Sherman’s 515 votes. Vega accounted for 66 percent of the votes, while Sherman claimed 33 percent.
Starbuck reclaimed his seat with 1,553 votes (59.1 percent), while challenger Robert Cuthbert trailed with 1,059 votes (40.3 percent).
Before the council’s next regular meeting on Dec. 18, the elected officials are scheduled to reconvene back in the Council Chambers at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, for an informational budget workshop that will be led by City Manager Jim Throop. That meeting will be open to the community.