ALBANY -- The seemingly routine action of canceling the City Council election in November because all seats are unopposed has prompted the protest of a political group that claims the action is exclusionary.
The City Council, at a special meeting on Aug. 21, canceled the election because only three applicants stepped forward for the three council seats scheduled to be on the ballot. Instead, the council appointed Rochelle Nason and Peggy McQuaid to four-year terms and Nick Pilch to a two-year term. The appointees will be sworn in on Dec. 8.
The action came even though the Albany Green Party Election Committee submitted a letter on Aug. 13 objecting to plans to cancel the election.
The letter raised four objections:
Nan Wishner of the Albany Green Party Election Committee said the city did the legal minimum to notify the public rather than running a "vigorous" campaign to get the word out and solicit more candidates.
"People should have known that this was happening," Wishner said. "The last election, we had seven candidates for three seats. It seems perfectly plausible there were people out there who might not have chosen to run, but if they knew it wasn't a contested election, they would have stepped forward."
Councilman Michael Barnes responded in an email, saying "I'm really disappointed we've had another 'Albanian' election, where the number of candidates is equal to the number of openings. But along with others I talked with, I beat the bushes to drum up some people willing to run, but couldn't persuade anyone.
Barnes also cited financial factors, saying, "Given an election costs about $20,000, and that the odds of a write-in candidate winning are so low, I think the taxpayers' money is better spent elsewhere."
Barnes also wrote that "elections are a forum to hear candidates' views."
He said he hoped the appointed council members will reach out to the community, possibly doing meet-and-greets. A forum could be held by the current council, and Barnes said he would look into that.
According to the staff report, the city would save some amount of money by not having the council election. The report stated that the council election in 2012 cost $20,000.
Nominations for the election originally closed on Aug. 8. A memo from City Clerk Nicole Almaguer responding to the Green Party's concerns was sent to the council. It noted that the extended period for more nominations was only for the two-year term due to the fact the incumbent (Nason) didn't file for that seat, choosing instead to seek one of the four-year terms. Pilch filed for the two-year term.
"The extended nomination period was a total of five days," Almaguer wrote. She added that a weekend was included, meaning there were only three working days involved, making further outreach "challenging."
She also wrote that "Additional 'outreach' could be interpreted as reflecting a staff desire to encourage additional candidates to file nomination papers and inconsistent with the City's obligation to remain neutral."
The memo stated that the city code requires uncontested races to appear on the ballot "if the City has a ballot measure on the ballot and/or another race for elective office that is contested." There are no city measures or other offices on the ballot this year. However, the city will still have an election in November, with four candidates filing by the deadline to run for three school board seats up for grabs. The school district pays its own election costs, so that doesn't qualify as another contested race.
The Albany Unified School District has the only measure on the ballot, a renewal that would replace the current parcel tax, known as Measure I. The tax would cost property owners $278 per parcel, adjusted for inflation, for six years. According to the district, it would fund math, science, technology, music and art programs, as well as continue support for library programs. It would also keep classroom technology and instructional materials up to date.
Almaguer stated in her response that the other points are policy decisions for the council to make.
Wishner said the Green Party normally evaluates candidates for office during the period between the filing deadline and the election to inform voters of their positions on various issues. Also, the party's top priority is spreading grass roots democracy.
"This cancellation of the election is in direct conflict of that No. 1 priority," she said.