By Janene Scully, Noozhawk North County Editor

Solvang’s new mayor began wielding the gavel Monday night as the City Council saw two new members take their seats on the dais before the trio decided to solicit applications for candidates to fill a vacancy instead of appointing a runner-up from the election.

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Kay Kuns presided over the swearing-in ceremony where Mayor Ryan Toussaint took the oath of office along with returning Councilwoman Karen Waite plus two newcomers, Robert Clarke and Chris Djernaes.

Earlier, the council bid farewell to former mayor Jim Richardson and council members Joan Jamieson and Neill Zimmerman. 

Toussaint’s election to mayor left a vacancy for the remaining two years on his term and a familiar debate about how to fill the empty seat.

State law only says vacancies need to be filled by appointment — without spelling out details such as requiring applications — or via a special election, an option that would take six months and cost up to $40,000. 

“I think this town is full of lots of really good people — those who ran and those who didn’t run,” Clarke said, adding he supported accepting applications from candidates seeking the job.

“I object to the application process because I feel that an individual that was truly interested in being on this council would have run, publicly vetted themselves and put themselves out there to the community, fully disclosed and transparent,” said Waite, who was first appointed to the council in 2017 after being the runner-up in the 2016 election. She also ran and won a seat in the Nov. 6 election.

Djernaes also said the council should widen the field of candidates by accepting applications.

Council members voted 3 to 1 — Waite was the lone opponent — to accept applications through Jan. 4 with the matter returning to the agenda for the council’s Jan. 14 meeting. 

By taking applications, the council rejected appointing automatically any of the runners-up in the Nov. 6 election, in which Jamieson missed being re-elected to the City Council by 200 votes in the race of six candidates seeking the two seats. 

Others who ran unsuccessfully for the four-year term were Kim Jensen, Denise El Amin, and Kenny “Esko” Lama NewYork. Former councilman Edwin Skytt lost in the race for the two-year seat that Waite won.

Efforts to fill a vacancy in 2017 sparked debate about the city protocol adopted in 2009 and renewed in 2015 to appoint the first runner-up of the most recent election or possibly the second runner-up to avoid a contentious process. 

Weeks after filling the vacancy, the council formally agreed to eliminate the protocol. 

Toussaint, who topped Richardson in the Nov. 6 election for the job of mayor, said he appreciated the support of the community for electing him.

“Our wonderful city will face challenges in the coming months, but we can overcome anything if we work together to do what is best for our citizens,” said Toussaint, who is 50 years younger than the previous mayor.

“We will ensure the city of Solvang has sound financial planning, avoids excess spending, strives to increase efficiency, makes Solvang business and resident friendly and will operate using common sense and best business practices.”

With two years on the council, Toussaint has the longest tenure of the new panel followed by Waite with slightly more than a year. 

Monday’s meeting signaled a new era for the council, one welcomed by at least two audience members who presented members with brooms.

“This broom is for Mayor Toussaint to make a clean sweep. It is a obvious that the voters wanted it,” said Solvang resident Hazel Mortensen. “I wish you all the best of luck.”

Later, the council voted 3 to 1 to name Clarke as mayor pro-tem, rejecting Waite’s bid for the job.

Waite noted past practice involved naming a council member with the next highest level of seniority.

But Toussaint said he needed a mayor pro-tem to pick up some of his mayoral duties and said Waite travels for her job, although she said she could overcome those concerns.

“My personal opinion on this item is I’m going to be looking to delegate as many responsibilities of mayor as possible,” Toussaint said, adding he would suggest in the future looking at the duties of the mayor pro-tem.

He said mayor pro-tem needs to be in Solvang regularly to sign checks, attend community events and be the figurehead when he’s not available.

Clarke said his stint as chairman of the Solvang Planning Commission and the fact he works in the city made him qualified to serve as mayor pro-tem. 

— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at

Applications for City Council will be accepted through 5:00 p.m. on January 4, 2018. Applications can be found on the city website, in the Recent News section, and should be mailed or delivered to the City Clerk.