Oceanside mayor Jim Wood, recovering from his fourth stroke, is wheelchair-bound and, according those close to him, not always completely understandable.
While his council colleagues are careful to be publicly respectful of the popular mayor, OHS grad, and Oceanside cop, the long knives may come out at a special 4:00 p.m. Wednesday meeting called by the mayor in a surprising announcement made Monday (October 2). The 4 o'clock meeting will be just before the regularly scheduled 5 p.m. council meeting.
Wood has run out of excusable absences since his May 16th stroke. If he misses Wednesday’s regular 5 p.m. council meeting, state law says his position becomes vacant and the council must then appoint a replacement or call an election. The newly announced special meeting asks the council to grant him extra time to continue outpatient therapy and allow him more absences through December 6.
If he does not get three votes the granting of extra time to convalesce at the special meeting, he would have to activate Plan B: Mayor Wood would have to officiate the 5 p.m. meeting. If he does, the vacancy clock would essentially be reset and he could have another 60 days of absence and still retain his seat.
But if a verbally challenged Wood cannot be clearly understood at that 5 p.m. meeting, would that mean he would not really be in charge and would therefore not be mayor going forward?
Councilmember Jerry Kern, who ran for mayor in 2012 but was beaten by incumbent Wood by a margin of almost two to one, seems to have run out of patience. When asked if a mumbling Wood would equate to eviction from office, he responded, “I don’t know,” says Kern. “I haven’t seen him since April. From what I understand his voice is greatly affected and he is not ambulatory…. He doesn’t have the use of his left arm.”
Until Monday it was not known if Wood would even want to keep his mayorship, which runs through 2020. “I understand there may be a concern regarding a four-member council and a possible 2-2 tie vote,” Wood wrote in Monday’s letter requesting the special meeting.
In Sunday’s U-T, reporter Phil Diehl wrote, “So far, Wood’s absence has not affected any high profile decisions on the council.” That is not true, says planning commissioner Kyle Krahel Frolander.
He points out the August vote on unfunded capital improvement projects that would have greenlighted new swimming pools at the El Corazon public park complex failed on a 2-2 vote.
City clerk Zack Beck notes that the city business has indeed changed with just four councilmembers. “Because city staff knows that with the makeup of this four-member council and a likely 2-2 vote, they may choose not to bring some items forward. The council agendas have had a lot fewer items. There is a backlog of items that aren’t coming forward.”
The council faces huge votes later this year on cannabis cultivation and medical dispensaries. Two councilmembers, Esther Sanchez and Jack Feller, traditionally spew anti-pot rhetoric while Kern and Chuck Lowery seem open to more liberal marijuana laws. A crucial Morrow Hills open-space initiative sponsored by planning commissioner Dennis Martinek and environmentalist Diane Nygaard could also be impacted without Mayor Wood’s potential tie-breaking vote.
Beck, who has twice been elected city clerk, has been mentioned as a potential replacement for Wood should his office become vacant. Beck often serves as a referee for the famously contentious council. One much-discussed plan would be for him to agree to be a temporary fill-in mayor on the condition that he would not run for mayor when the election would come up in three years.
Beck’s moderate, even-handed demeanor seems to some city-hall watchers as one of the few viable choices for this council, which is now divided evenly between Dems (Sanchez, Lowery) and GOP-leaners (Kern, Feller). Beck says he has heard of the plan but has not been approached by any of the councilmembers.
A stand-alone special election for Oceanside mayor would cost an estimated $650,000. If it is consolidated with next June’s primary, the cost would be between $25,000 and $75,000.