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Fate of Runoff Elections Put in the Hands of Voters

The Seal Beach City Council opted to let voters decide if the city should amend its charter to do away with the runoff election in races where no candidate garners the majority vote.

The city of Seal Beach may scrap it’s runoff election process in place for City Council elections where no single candidate earns the majority vote.

The matter will be on the November ballot along with a number of local election issues.

On Tuesday, the City Council opted to put to voters a series of changes to the city charter governing the way City Council members are elected as well as city policy designed to prevent conflicts of interest at the highest levels of leadership.

Among several housekeeping changes to the charter, voters will get to decide whether to do away with run-off elections in Seal Beach and let the highest vote getter take office even if they don’t get 50 percent of the votes. The issue follows last year’s District One election in which Ellery Deaton was the highest vote getter with 49.6 percent of the vote. Because no one garnered the majority vote, the city spent $14,000 in a runoff election in which Deaton won.

Having just gone through it, Deaton said feedback from the community is that the runoff election was a “ridiculous expenditure of money for a ½ a percent.”

“Very few people vote in a runoff election,” Deaton added. “I want to get it on the ballot and let the people decide.”

Deaton, Mayor Michael Levitt, and City Councilman David Sloan voted in favor of putting the issue before voters.

Councilmen Gary Miller and Gordon Shanks dissented.

“I would prefer a real election,” Miller said. “It’s important that the majority rule.”

“Not having a runoff, in my mind, is less democratic,” added Shanks.

Resident Schelly Sustarsic also had strong concerns about eliminating the runoff process.

“I would feel much better knowing they represent the district,” said Sustarsic, a poll place worker for 12 years. “Elections cost money. It’s just the cost of democracy to me. It’s important t o me. It should be 50 percent plus one.”

However, Sloan said he felt strongly that the voters should be able to decide if Seal Beach keeps the runoff process.

“Without debating the merits, I think it should go before the voters,” he said.

Similarly, the council opted to let voters decide if elected officials such as City Council members should be allowed to seek paid positions as city department heads within one to three years of stepping down from office. The measure is designed to head off any conflicts of interest by city leaders.

“I would be good with never,” said Deaton. “I just don’t want to see the City Council be a stepping stone to a paid position.”

“I want to be the lifeguard chief,” quipped Sloan

Resident Seth Eaker urged the council to strongly consider expanding the policy to prevent officials from holding city office for at least three years instead of the current one year city council members have to wait before they can be hired as a department head.

“We saw what happened in Bell, California,” Eaker said. “It really goes to the heart of democracy.”

Robert Aguilar Jr May 30, 2012 at 01:49 PM
I agree with Miller on this matter. Eliminating the run off would deprive Seal Beach residents from the true democratic process. Run offs are designed to eliminate mistakes in the vote count and should reflect the true intent of the voter. The cost is par for the course. Democracy costs money. That's why we pay taxes. Im against allowing the council to determine what is best for their future. They should be banned from holding any paid positions with the city once they leave office. Most of them are retirement age anyway.

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