By Raiza Giorgi
After a monthslong campaign to oust Solvang City Councilman Chris Djernaes, the voters of Solvang decided to do just that and replace him with former Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Thomas.
“Former member Chris Djernaes has only just seen what we, the people of Solvang, can do,” said Lam Johnstone, leader of the recall effort. “Our next step is to inform the FPPC of income and expenditures…That will be fun.”
The unofficial results as of Nov. 4, the day after the election, of all precincts reporting were 2,372 in favor and 356 who voted against the recall as Djernaes’ term would have been up in 2022. The voters had to also replace Djernaes, and Thomas garnered 1,851 votes, with Jaime Baker garnering 753 votes, according to Santa Barbara County Elections.
The organizers of the recall effort stated in their filing paperwork that Djernaes’ actions and statements have shown “a blatant disregard for the Ralph M. Brown (Open Meetings) Act and the council’s protocols regarding simple rules of common courtesy.”
When City Council actions led to allegations of Brown Act violations and an investigation by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, Djernaes pressed prosecutors about who had reported the alleged violations, prompting a warning from the office.
He is also still the subject of an investigation by the California Fair Political Practices Commission for allegedly failing to report a personal loan in his campaign-related forms. As Noozhawk and the Santa Ynez Valley Star reported in January, Djernaes, whose full name is Niels Christian Djernaes, failed to report a personal loan on paperwork he submitted to the FPPC. Djernaes claims he was cleared; however, the FPPC has not verified he has been cleared.
In a letter to Solvang officials, Deputy District Attorney Casey Nelson said people have “a fundamental right to complain about, and to, their government. They also have a right to be free from reprisals for doing so.”
Djernaes also walked off the dais earlier this year when a decision to renew the license for the Solvang Trolley was approved. During many council meetings, when the public commented on various topics Djernaes could be seen laughing, rolling his eyes and/or not paying attention and on his phone or laptop, which prompted the public to ask him to pay attention.
Solvang voters also voted in Charlie Uhrig as the new mayor of Solvang, as he took 1,623 votes to current City Councilwoman Karen Waite, who only got 1,202 votes. Current Mayor Ryan Toussaint did not file for reelection after only serving one term.
“In the past several months, I met with people, looked them in the eye when we discussed their concerns, and asked them for their vote,” Uhrig said. “I didn’t worry about their political party affiliation, and they didn’t worry about mine. It was simply a shared vested interest in this city of ours.
“I want to thank the community for their support and belief in me to represent you. I am thrilled to be the next mayor of our city of Solvang,” he added.
The two council members elected were Mark Infanti, who topped all candidates with 1,356 votes, and Solvang Trolley owner Clau Orona who got 1,181 votes.
“I am very excited and humbled I am able to be a part of the council,” Orona said. “It was unprecedented how people came together to speak up for better representation for the people of Solvang.”
Orona elaborated she said the city needs to be stabilized and to stop outsourcing city staff and make sure it’s efficient and cost effective. She said there is a lot of questions surrounding job roles and duties as well as attorney fees.
“There is almost nothing I want to see continue from this current council,” Infanti said. “In spite of what I call decent intentions, they have advanced those intentions with poor decisions and I have supported many groups of people who are unhappy with what the current council has done.”
Infanti thanked the supporters who voted for him and added the first thing to get done with the new council is to reign in spending and to do an audit of the budget and get a staff back.
“The current council fired so many staff we don’t have good, valid information,” he said. “This staff can’t even provide a packet days before the council meeting, it’s usually the day of, which the public does not appreciate. The city is not reflecting the desires of the city founders.”