At its November 1 meeting, the Martinez City Council took its first step to moving the city clerk away from an elected position to a city appointed position.
The recommendation from the City Clerk was prompted by the upcoming end of his elected four-year term in November 2024, and the rapid evolution of complex duties required of the position. The proposed change would require a ballot measure to be placed before the voters at an upcoming election.
According to the staff report, of the 482 cities in California, 100 cities have elected City Clerks. In Contra Costa County as of 2023, only 3 out of the 19 cities have an elected City Clerk – Pittsburg, Antioch, and Martinez. In recent years, the growing trend amongst 80% of cities is the utilization of the appointment process for City Clerks.
Mayor Brianna Zorn, who brought the item forward, stated she was in full support.
“I fully support this idea. I think this is a very good suggestion,” stated Zorn. “I am concerned about the word appointed because it gives the impression that we will be hand selecting a friend to serve as the city clerk which is not an improvement over an elected position. This needs to say staff position appointed by the city manager or something along those lines.”
Councilmember Debbie McKillop said she would like it selected by the city manager based on skill set than a general election and highlighted the position has grown with responsibilities.
“The role this person plays has many more responsibilities,” stated McKillop. “I want to make sure for our city and our protection that the person holding this job is fully capable of fulfilling that responsibility so I find this being beneficial in the long run and I support this measure.”
Councilmember Satinder S. Malhi called it beneficial and was reminded what the City of Pleasant Hill went through several years ago which was not a “pretty situation as I recall” and said this made sense.
Vice Mayor Mark Ross asked about salary and if they were creating two positions and what the cost would be for the position.
City manager Michael Chandler responded that this would be a budget process decision whether it becomes one person or multiple people—but it creates a city clerk position and allows the city manager to makes recommendations of how it becomes staffed, but does become a full-time city staff position versus an elected part-time position.
Chandler was asked for more clarification of what he meant by it in which he responded this just clarifies the position is “city clerk” since most of the work is already being done in house by staff. He said the goal was to remove the “elected position” and make the head of the department the city clerk versus the assistant city clerk or deputy city clerk—its changed.
The council was concerned about the role and responsibilities by Kat Galileo, Assistant City Clerk, who shared what she would likely being doing from a customer service standpoint but called it the best direction for the city.
“This is 100% I feel like this is the best direction for the city clerk’s office needs to go in because right now with the current way it is, it does not work. It definitely needs at least another body in the office to provide support,” explained Galileo. “When I am out, the work just piles up so when you have deadlines such as PRA’s and claims, it backs up.”
Malhi called this a complete shift from how the job has been historically understood as this becomes a persons full time job.
Councilmember Jay Howard said he supported the mayor’s plan.
Zorn then stated they have talked her out of this plan because they were now talking about creating a full-time position which was not budgeted and paying a clerk for Galileo to support.
“We need to talk through this before we vote,” stated Zorn who noted the staff report stated a $38k savings and nothing about a $200k position added to the budget.
Chandler stated if this becomes a full-time position along with Galileo then Zorn was correct in her statement.
Ross stated he understood the ask because its an outgoing city clerk, a lot of cities don’t have an elected clerk any longer but made two requests which included finding other cities who have a model that they could replicate. He also asked what the cost would be for those models.
The city attorney shared that in most cases the council defers the appointment to the city manager while the person selected was already someone working in the clerks office.
“In every single case, the appointment was for the existing employee and they simply got a new title,” said City Attorney Terri Highsmith while calling Galileo one of the best city clerks she has ever worked with in over 30-years.
Ross urged them to refine this and define it clearly but that tonight they give direction to move forward.
Chandler stated they will bring the item back with more detail while citing a need to grow the office because its been under-served.
After public comments, Ross again stated they need to be clear with the public all they were doing is consolidating the city clerk’s office from an elected to appointed staff position.
The council agreed in a 5-0 vote to direct staff to prepare for Council review and adoption the necessary materials to place a ballot measure before the voters at the Statewide Primary Election in 2024.
- November 15 (E-111) City Council Meeting: Appointment of Council to draft Argument in Favor; draft ballot proposed.
- December 6 (E-90) City Council Meeting: Adoption of Ballot Resolution with elements outlined above.
- December 7 (E-89) Ballot measure and Primary Argument For submitted to the County Elections Office.
- December 8 (E-88) Last day to place a measure on the ballot.
- December 11 (E-85) Local measure letter assigned.
- December 20 (E-76) Deadline for Primary Arguments For/Against
- December 25* (E-71) Deadline for Rebuttal Arguments
- January 25 (E-40) Estimated Voter Information Guide Mailing
- March 5 Primary Election Day
- Early April Certification of Election Results