Since only two candidates registered last month to run for three open seats on the Goleta City Council, a third candidate has stepped forward to fill the looming vacancy.
Goleta Planning Commissioner Reyne Stapelmann announced her candidacy Monday, just nine days before the deadline to register for the election on November 2. Stapelmann will run alongside incumbent councilmen Roger Aceves and Michael Bennett this fall, seeking a seat left open by Mayor Eric Onnen, who has chosen not to seek reelection.
Stapelmann’s decision comes after a long period of uncertainty as to whether a third candidate would run for the position. According to Stapelmann, who also works as a full-time real-estate broker, she postponed officially declaring in order to determine how the job would impact her current work schedule.
“I saw that there was that one spot open and I talked to Onnen about what it would require,” Stapelmann said. “I was told it is very time consuming, but I already do that same process as a planning commissioner.”
The position of Goleta councilmember, which comes with a relatively low compensation of $400 per month, has typically attracted retirees. Stapelmann, however, says she would continue working throughout the four-year term if elected.
She said because many other potential candidates are unable to work full time while on the council, she believes increasing the monthly stipend might attract more candidates in the future.
“Obviously you have to work if you’re not wealthy or are supporting yourself,” Stapelmann said. “I think it would open up that position to a lot more people if there was an increase.”
However, despite any issue raised with the compensation, the City of Goleta is a new city and falls under state control as a general-law city. This means that it is formed and governed under California’s constitution, which limits independent control within the city government. In contrast, the City of Santa Barbara is a charter city, which means that, unlike Goleta, it can adopt its own rules through a popular vote and to have greater control over compensation for its officials.
In light of the legal restrictions, Goleta City Councilmember Margaret Connell agreed that the low compensation can pose problems for people without another source of income and that changing the regulations may result in a larger pool of qualified candidates.
“It is difficult for those who do not have a private source of income to run for the position,” Connell said. “State law limits the amount the city council receives and determines it by the population of the city.”
According to Solvang Mayor Jim Richardson, Solvang decided to become a charter city in 2006 in part to exercise greater control over its local affairs.
“In a general law city the state regulator makes the rules,” Richardson said. “We are able to modify the charter based on the voter. We aren’t forced into the state’s mandated wages.”
While charter cities offer increased local control to set rules such as pay for city officials, the City of Bell, a charter city, has been rocked with scandal after it was discovered that council members earned six-figure salaries granted by their authority in their city charter.
Jim Finerock, Director of Communications for the California Attorney General’s Office, said the gross overpayments began shortly after the city became a charter city.
“Salaries and city council stipends started to escalate after 2005, when the city converted from a general law city to a charter city, which made it easier to raise and hide salaries,” Finerock said.
Finerock added that the severity of this occurrence is unheard of and is not typical of cities under the charter system.
“The Bell salary situation is unprecedented, as far as I know,” Finerock said. “The nearly $800,000 salary the city manger was drawing is more than any other city manager in California, and possibly the nation. Bell has a population of 37,000.”
In comparison, the city of Goleta has a population near 30,000, though council members receive only $400 a month. Despite the limitations it may put on potential candidates, Connell said there are no plans to make any changes.
“I don’t think any of us are eager to change anything,” Connell said. “I cannot see us really trying to make council compensation to more than it would be now.”