La Jolla Town Council opts for secret ballot on new trustee

By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

If he’d been a racehorse you’d say he won by a nose.

Howard G. Singer, antique car collector and longtime Bird Rock resident, was elected last week as the La Jolla Town Council’s newest trustee when the group decided on Aug. 11 to move to a written ballot. The vote was a 10-10 tie, broken by President Rick Wildman. It was the first time a written ballot was used to fill a vacancy.

“Everyone who wants to serve should be able to serve,” said Wildman in casting the deciding vote.

Singer’s candidacy as a volunteer trustee was challenged because of his previous stance advocating removing Christmas from the name of the Town Council’s annual La Jolla Christmas Parade and Holiday Festival. In 2005, he was one of a group of La Jollans seeking to make the event more inclusive through changing the event’s name.

The Town Council voted 11-9 by secret ballot that year to leave the name alone.

Formed in 1950 by numerous civic and business organizations, the council was set up as a forum to debate community issues and advise local legislators of their positions. Normally elections are held in the spring to fill eight of the 24 trustee spots, with all paid members allowed to cast votes in the mail-in election. However, the council’s bylaws allow for election by the trustees when vacancies occur throughout the year.

In 2011, seven trustees — John Donaldson, Cindy Greatrex, Greg Phillips, Mary Soriano, Jennifer Van Galder, Peter Wulff and Ruth Yansick — were elected. Already this year, the board has added six more — Tricia Butler, Evan Morgan, Ken King and Sona Maria Olivas, Nancy Gardner and now Singer. Appointees were selected by the executive committee and voted on by the full board, per the council’s bylaws.

One seat remains open.

In Singer’s case, Trustee Ed Ward called for a written ballot instead of having a show of hands for the vote, which has been customary in appointing trustees to vacant positions.

“When it comes to voting for officers or annually for trustees or for trustee vacancies, I think it should be a private vote on matters of individual choice,” Ward said. “Roberts Rules of Order provides this can be done by written ballot.”

Singer said Nancy Gardner, the most recent addition, was elected by a show of hands and he questioned whether a written ballot was appropriate.

Ward prevailed and the group voted 13-6 in favor of having a written ballot.

At the end of the meeting, Ward requested that the question of having all future trustee votes be done by written ballot be put on the group’s next agenda for a vote on Sept. 8.

Pressed on whether he’s changed his stance vis-à-vis the parade name, Singer said, ”That’s ancient history — I’ve gotten beyond that.” Noting his motivation to join the group was to “give back” to the community, Singer added, “I have no problem with the name. I love a parade.”

Singer said, with his connections in the antique car community, that he believes he can be an asset in helping build the parade by acquiring classic vehicles for it.

Trustee Ann Kerr-Bache, who’s led the town council’s parade committee the past few years, said Singer’s previous participation in a media campaign to change the parade’s name had left some residual ill will among some group members.

“I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt,” she said, but added, “You ought not to try to get involved with the parade committee right away. Maybe you ought to join the membership committee first instead.”