2012-03-15 / Front Page

Planning commissioner proposes ‘Right to Vote’ law for Thousand Oaks

By Kyle Jorrey

Just two days after Joel Price was appointed to serve the remaining 33 months on Dennis Gillette’s term on the City Council, an initiative was filed at city hall that would make such an action illegal.

On Thursday, Planning Commissioner Michael “Mic” Farris submitted paperwork to the city clerk’s office to start a petition for the Thousand Oaks Right To Vote Initiative. The measure, which will need an estimated 7,300 signatures to get on the local ballot, requires council vacancies to be filled by a special election, allowing interim appointments only until the date of the next statewide election.

On March 6, the City Council voted 3-1 to appoint Price, also a member of the planning commission, over 16 other applicants to take Gillette’s seat. Gillette was forced to step down from the council in February to focus on his battle with diabetes.

Farris told the Acorn on Tuesday that it was Price’s appointment, coupled with the council’s selection of Tom Glancy in 2005 to fill Ed Masry’s seat, which drove him to help write the law. In both cases, the councilmen had more than 2½ years left on their terms, yet the council passed on the opportunity to hold a special election coinciding with the regular city election in November, he said.

“A lot of people are very thankful that we are doing something about it,” Farris said of the initiative’s supporters, which include Councilmember Claudia Bill-de Peña, county Supervisor Linda Parks and Al Adam, who wrote a term limits initiative that is on the November ballot. “Many people remember not just this last appointment but the previous vacancy that was filled in 2005. That led to very similar public outrage.

“An initiative like this would make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he continued. “Voters will always be part of the process . . . of selecting (who) should fill a vacancy.”

Farris, who was appointed to the planning commission in early 2011 by Bill-de la Peña (who voted against Price’s appointment), said he’s heard from many residents who are upset with the council for not holding an election, and that’s why he decided to act.

Asked if he was concerned about the financial impact of the proposed law—which would require the city to pay for a special election even when another local election wasn’t planned—Farris said he wasn’t.

“We spend money on a lot of things that are important to people in the city . . . and one of the fundamental things that is important is the right of the people to support their own leaders,” he said.

“I don’t think the costs of special elections are prohibitive for Thousand Oaks,” he added.

Under the state election code, the city attorney has until March 23 to write a title and summary of the proposal and return it to Farris, City Clerk Linda Lawrence said.

Farris, who ran unsuccessfully for the City Council in 2004, will have 180 days from the time the city attorney releases the summary to collect the required number of signatures, which is equal to 10 percent of the number of registered voters in T.O. At last count, there were 72,785 registered voters in the city, Lawrence said.

If Farris and his supporters are able to gather enough signatures, the measure will then go before the City Council, which may either adopt it into law, ask for a study to be done or send it to the voters.

The last day a measure can be added to the November ballot is July 2, Lawrence said. And the last City Council meeting scheduled before that date is June 26, giving Farris slightly more than three months to collect the signatures and have them certified by the county.

“There’s some timing issues about getting this onto the November ballot,” Farris said. “(But) it really depends on how much support we get for the measure and how quickly we can collect signatures.”

Asked if he was planning to hire paid signature gatherers, Farris said, “I’m working right now with supporters with the organization needed to qualify this initiative for the ballot. I’m reaching out from all areas to help do that.”

Farris said he has no plans to run for the council in November, when two seats are up for grabs. To read the full text of the initiative, go to www.torighttovote.org.

Story updated Thurs., March 15 10:00 a.m.

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